Background: A review of the periodontal literature offers little information concerning trends in referral patterns of patients for periodontal therapy. Over the last 2 decades, there has been a significant increase in the knowledge base concerning inflammatory periodontal disease. It might be assumed that the collective advances in knowledge have impacted periodontal referral patterns. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the differences in periodontal referral patterns in the same offices separated by a 20-year interval (i.e., 1980 and 2000).
Methods: A retrospective chart analysis was conducted on a total of 782 patient charts from three conveniently selected periodontal practices. Charts were randomly selected from two time periods: 1980-1981 and 2000-2001. The following information was obtained from each patient record: gender, age at time of initial examination, tobacco smoking status at time of initial examination, periodontal case type, number of missing teeth at initial examination (not including third molars), and number of teeth scheduled for extraction per periodontal treatment plan. Descriptive data were analyzed using frequency distributions, measures of central tendency, and measures of dispersion. Non-parametric statistics were used to examine the relationship of disease severity as a function of site, time period, and patient age.
Results: The following trends were noted: 1) an increase in the average age of patients at the time of the initial examination; 2) a decrease in the percentage of patients using tobacco at the time of the initial interview; 3) an increase in the percentage of periodontal Case Type IV patients with a concomitant decrease in the number of periodontal Case Type II patients; 4) an increase in the average number of missing teeth per patient at the initial examination; and 5) an increase in the average number of teeth scheduled for extraction per periodontal treatment plan.
Conclusions: Characteristics of patients referred in 1980 compared to those referred in the year 2000 indicate that, although fewer patients used tobacco, there were several noteworthy trends. At referral, patients exhibited a greater loss of teeth, had more severe disease, and required extraction of a greater number of teeth in 2000 compared to 1980. Possible reasons for these trends are discussed.