1960-1969: Written Examination Introduced

History of the Board


The 1960's began with a transition for the country, as the Eisenhower years gave way to the energy of the Kennedy administration ushered in by the 1961 election. Sadly, excitement gave way to tragedy in a decade of assassinations, an increasingly controversial war, and dissention that rocked the country.

The work of the Board appeared to be relatively untouched by external events: Candidates continued to go to Indianapolis for Board examinations. Through the early 60s, candidates were required to submit five cases in advance and, if these were accepted, candidates then went to Indianapolis for the written, oral and clinical segments. The oral exam was held in two sessions, one based on the cases candidates had submitted earlier and the other focusing on clinical pathology.

The clinical exam was performed on real patients drawn from the dental school at Indiana University. Examiners reviewed patient records to find appropriate patients and two patients were assigned to each candidate. The clinicals took place over two days: on day one, the candidate would give their patients a “good cleaning” and on day two the candidate performed surgery. “There were mixed feelings about this,” reports Dr. Robert Reeves, who was an examiner at the time. “We wanted candidates to demonstrate their physical skills but the environment may not have been conducive to bringing out their best.” Dr. D. Walter Cohen says, “I thought the clinical in a strange environment was traumatic.” ABP minutes of the 1963 exam noted: “The clinical examination was conducted without interruption for the first time...This was a definite improvement.”  Without knowing what the report is referencing, it would be easy to draw some rather dramatic conclusions about the nature of the interruptions. The report concludes that the absence of interruption “...allowed the candidates a better chance to demonstrate their abilities.”

Periodontists in the Military

Despite their small numbers, periodontists did have a presence in the military during the 1960s.Major General Joseph L. Bernier, who was president of the American Academy of Periodontology in 1959, served as the chief of the US Army Dental Corps from 1960 to 1967. Dr. Arthur J. Sachsel, who completed an Air Force-sponsored residency in the early 60s, rose to the rank of Assistant Surgeon General for Dental Services, US Air Force Headquarters, Washington DC. Major General Sachsel retired from that position in 1987.


Examiners in 1963 were Drs. Frank Beube, Donald A. Kerr, Neilson, Henry M. Swenson, and B.O.A. Thomas.

In 1964, 24 candidates were examined, with 18 passing and in 1965, 22 were examined and 14 passed. Fifty candidates were approved as of November 1965 to take the 1966 exam, but “on the basis of past experience, however, it is unlikely that more than 24 will present themselves,” observed the Board’s Secretary-Treasurer, Dr. B.O.A. Thomas, in a report to the AAP. Dr. Thomas was close: 18 candidates were examined in 1966. Of those, 14 passed.

In 1967 only 13 candidates were examined and in 1968 there were 11 (of which, 10 passed). The continued decline in numbers of interested candidates raised deep concerns and the Board responded with significant changes. On June 4, 1968, Dr. Swenson wrote to the Executive Council of the AAP:

“There have been many changes made by the Directors of the American Board of Periodontology in the conduct of the examinations. In order to encourage more men to take the examination it was felt that the examination should be given in sections. The examinations will now be divided into three parts, namely, the written, case reports and the oral-clinical. The written examination may be taken upon completion of a satisfactory two-year post doctoral training program. Upon passing the written examination the individual is eligible to present case reports. There will still be a three-year minimum upon the completion of post-graduate training before case reports may be presented. After the case reports have been passed the individual then may take the oral-clinical examination.”


The first written examination was scheduled for October 22, 1968, at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, and 58 candidates were examined. The next written exam was scheduled for October 7 in Philadelphia, the day before the AAP Annual Meeting and as of May of that year, 82 individuals expressed an interest.

“By allowing individuals to take the written portion right after finishing their training, we saw a tremendous increase in the numbers,” says Dr. Cohen. He also notes that in the 1950 and 1960 there were actually very few periodontists and those few were swamped with work. “This made it difficult for them to make time for taking the boards.”

American Board of Periodontology-Minutes of Annual Examinations Session. Indiana University Dental School, April 7-10, 1963. 

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