International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 128, Issue 2, pp 309–312 | Cite as

Tongue protrusion as an indicator of vital burning

  • Herman BernitzEmail author
  • Paul J. van Staden
  • Christine M. Cronjé
  • René Sutherland
Original Article


In the forensic assessment of burned bodies, the question of whether the victim was exposed to the fire before or after death is of crucial importance. Several external signs have been used in the past to indicate heat exposure prior to the death of the victim but these did not include tongue protrusion. The internal signs of heat exposure are generally regarded as much more important than those observed externally. No one factor has been found to be totally reliable. This study found a statistically significant dependence between tongue protrusion and presence of soot in the respiratory tract and stomach, the latter being a good indicator of vital burning. The results of this study confirm that tongue protrusion can be used as an additional indicator of vital burning.


Forensic science Forensic pathology Forensic odontology Vital burning Tongue protrusion 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Herman Bernitz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul J. van Staden
    • 2
  • Christine M. Cronjé
    • 3
  • René Sutherland
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Oral Pathology and Oral Biology, School of DentistryUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of StatisticsUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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