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J Am Dent Assoc. 2002 Mar;133(3):343-51.

Patterns of oral care in a Washington State dental service population.

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  • 1Dental Data Analysis Center, Seatle, Washington, USA.



The authors compare patterns of oral health care reported by the Washington Dental Service, or WDS, Seattle, in 1993 and 1999 to assess changes in patient populations, practice characteristics, procedures and treatment costs in the state.


Data were obtained from dental benefits claims from a population of about 1.25 million people. Variables of interest included patient age and other demographic information, character of dental practice, dental procedures and treatment costs that combined WDS payment and patient copayment.


The results showed high agreement (97 percent) between the database and randomly surveyed patient records. For both 1993 and 1999, general dental offices were responsible for more than 80 percent of patient care. Single crowns (21 percent), restorative services (15 percent) and dental prophylaxis (13 percent) made up about half of the costs of dental care. Broad categories of service were similar in 1993 and 1999, and anticipated major declines in restorative procedures related to caries were not apparent. The mix of services varied considerably by patient age and between generalists and specialists in both years.


Patterns of oral health care among this insured patient population largely remained unchanged from 1993 to 1999, with some shifts in specific procedures and specialty care. During this period, dentists saw more patients and performed fewer treatments per patient, while total treatment costs per patient increased.


Patterns of oral health care in the United States are projected to undergo major changes linked to improved oral health, declining trends in caries and periodontal diseases, scientific advances in treatment approaches and a patient population that is living longer. Changes in care patterns during this six-year period may reflect patient and provider preferences, as well as the influence of reimbursement policies. Dental benefits databases can serve as a critical resource for monitoring such changes.

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