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Age estimation based on dental formation and eruption is usually quite reliable for young(er) individuals. However, the high variation of the formation and eruption of the third molars makes this method not as reliable for people approaching legal adult age (usually 18 years old). This method is used by some border control/immigration/refugee agencies when faced with individuals with no definitive proof of age. These individuals would receive drastically different treatment or arrangement when their age was estimated age to be older or younger than 18 by this method, leading to very different legal and livelihood outcomes. Look into the literature (usually in forensic and immigration justice, etc.) to discuss how dental age estimation works, why this is an issue in the above described context, present evidence or opinions from scholars or activists who support and are against this practice, and discuss your own opinion. 

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Age estimation based on dental formation and eruption is a commonly used method for determining the age of individuals, particularly in cases where there is no definitive proof of age. However, this method’s reliability diminishes as individuals approach legal adulthood, especially due to the high variation in the formation and eruption of third molars. This issue becomes particularly relevant in the context of border control, immigration, and refugee agencies, as it can have significant implications on the legal and livelihood outcomes of individuals. In this discussion, we will explore how dental age estimation works, the reasons why it becomes problematic in the mentioned context, the perspectives of scholars and activists both supporting and opposing this practice, and conclude with our own opinion.

Dental age estimation is grounded in the understanding that tooth development follows a predictable pattern, and specific dental formations and eruptions correspond to certain age ranges. By examining an individual’s dental structure, particularly the third molars (wisdom teeth), it is possible to estimate their age relatively accurately. This method is especially reliable for younger individuals, where the variation in tooth development is relatively minimal.

The issue arises when this age estimation method is applied to individuals who are nearing legal adulthood, typically at the age of 18. The formation and eruption of third molars can vary significantly among individuals, making it challenging to accurately estimate age solely based on dental development. This poses a problem for border control, immigration, and refugee agencies, as the legal and livelihood outcomes of individuals can dramatically differ depending on whether they are determined to be above or below the age of 18.

Scholars and activists on both sides of the debate offer various opinions regarding dental age estimation in the mentioned context. Those in favor argue that it provides a standardized method for age determination when no other proof is available. They argue that while there may be some margin of error, it is better than not having any method at all. They also highlight the potential consequences of admitting adults into systems designed for minors, such as increased risks of exploitation, lack of appropriate resources, and compromising the welfare of genuine minors.

On the other hand, opponents of dental age estimation argue that the method is inherently flawed for individuals near legal adulthood. They highlight the variability in tooth development and the potential for inaccurate age estimation. They also raise concerns about the significant life-altering consequences faced by individuals whose legal and livelihood outcomes are determined based on an imperfect method. Additionally, they argue that alternative methods, such as medical assessments or psychological evaluations, could provide more reliable and comprehensive age determination.

In my opinion, dental age estimation should be approached with caution in cases where individuals are near the legal adult age. While it may serve as a temporary solution in the absence of other proof, the variability in tooth development renders it less reliable. In such cases, a multi-faceted approach incorporating additional methods, such as medical assessments and psychological evaluations, would provide a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of an individual’s age. It is crucial to consider the potential consequences of relying solely on dental age estimation, as individuals’ legal and livelihood outcomes can be significantly impacted.

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