1980-2002: The First 50 Years Draw to a Close...and the Board Enters The 21st Century

History of the Board


If the 80s are remembered for anything, it is as the decade the Baby Boomers came of age. Later to be characterized as the “splurge generation,” the Boomers led the way on a path through the 80s that was littered with the debris of “conspicuous consumption”: VCRs, designer labels on even the most mundane garments, megamergers, and LBOs. It would be easy to forget that this was also the decade that saw the funding of the Human Genome Project (1988) and the fall of the Berlin wall (1989), events with consequences that continue to reverberate in our lives as we begin the 21st Century.

As the American Board of Periodontology approached the anniversary of its first 50 years in 1989, and moved toward the 21st Century, it became increasingly apparent that increasing the numbers of certified periodontists needed to be intensified and yet, while desired, success in those efforts would stretch the Board’s resources—human and financial.

In the early 1980s, the Board felt pressed by the impact of double-digit inflation and the time-intensive process of screening case reports (for example, thirty-seven sets of reports were examined in 1980) and conducting oral examination. To offset rising costs, the Board raised application fees from $150 to $250 and case reports from $300 to $450. “The Board anticipates that these fee increases will strengthen its financial position sufficiently so that additional increases will not b needed in the foreseeable future,” noted a September 3, 1981, memo from the Board to the Executive Council of the AAP.

With regard to the demands on the examiners, a 1982 memo from the Ad Hoc Committee on Board Examiners to the Executive Council noted:

"The present American Board of Periodontology Oral examination...consists of two two-hour sessions, each conducted by a team of two Board directors. Recently, between 30 and 35 candidates have been examined. In 1981, four sessions a day were scheduled (two in the morning and two in the afternoon). The directors found this arrangement to be so exhausting that in 1982 a maximum of three sessions a day were scheduled....This, of course required increasing the number of days for the examinations; in 1982 five and a half days were needed."


Because of the possibility that an increasing number of candidates will become eligible to take the Oral examination the Board concluded that a mechanism should be established for the selection of Special Examiners to augment the Board during the examination period...

Special examiners became part of the process and their presence proved to be especially critical in 1989, when 62 candidates planned to take the oral examination in Dallas. Four former directors were chosen to serve as examiners that year.

The examination process itself was continuously refined and improved. As a result of work with the ADA Joint Commission on National Dental Examination, it was anticipated that by 1986 a microscopic examination would be incorporated into the overall examination, “thereby improving the reliability and efficiency of the examination. The ability to make such a major financial modification was in part due to funds provided by the American Academy of Periodontology,” said a report to the AAP Executive Council in February 1984.

Concerns with periodontal education were also in the forefront and the Board went on record in October 1982 as asking the AAP Executive Council to reaffirm its position that programs directors in periodontics be Board certified, and asked that the Council support the Commission on Dental Accreditation in its effort to require Board certification of Program Directors. 

“The ADA requirement that Program Directors be Board certified is certainly a major milestone in the history-of-the-board of our Board,” observed Gerald M. Bowers, who has served as Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the ABP since 1984.

The written examination, first introduced in October 1968, continued to draw a large number of candidates to the boarding process. In 1985, 121 candidates took the written exam (which had an 88 percent success rate) and in 1986, the number rose to 128 with a 93 percent success rate.

The 1990s saw steady growth in the number of board certified periodontists. In 1990 163 applicants took the written examination and 83 percent of those passed. While only 45 took the oral examination that year, 96 percent passed the exam. Although the number of persons taking the written examination fluctuated over the decade of the 90s, as did the numbers taking the oral examination, the general trend was upward: In 1990 there were 781 board certified periodontists and by 1999 their numbers had nearly doubled, to 1318, jumping to 1390 in 2000.

Over the course of more than 60 years, the American Board of Periodontology clearly established its place as a leader in dental care excellence by continuously upgrading the certification process and actively encouraging periodontal specialists to seek board certification. Because of the importance of a strong certifying board in promoting excellent oral healthcare for the public and ensuring the specialty’s prominent role dental care, The AAP Foundation launched a 5-year, $1.5 million campaign for the Board in October 2001. Interest from the Gerald M. Bowers Endowment Fund for the ABP will be used to strengthen the Board’s financial position, enable the Board to incorporate appropriate testing technologies, and help to extend certifying opportunities to much larger number of periodontists.

By mid-2002 the Fund had surpassed $600,000 in pledges thanks to the generosity of early donors—individuals and corporate friends. In addition, the American Academy of Periodontology is providing significant funding over a six-year period that will guarantee support to the ABP while the Endowment Fund is building. These gifts have laid a strong foundation for the campaign. They also carry a challenge: to build on that foundation to ensure the Fund’s success and the specialty’s pre-eminence in coming years.

    Memo to the Executive Council, American Academy of Periodontology from the Ad Hoc Committee on Board Examiners, September 20, 1982. 

    Minutes, AAP Executive Council. October 4, 1982.  

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