Active vs. Inactive Patients

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Finances | Risk Management and Fraud Prevention

Most dental practices have dental records for both active and inactive patients. Active records are maintained for patients currently having dental care provided by the practice.

Files for active patients should be maintained on-site in a convenient but secure area of the office or the equivalent electronic environment. Inactive records relate to patients who have not been seen for at least 24 months. Those records can be housed in a less accessible part of the office, such as a storeroom, but must still be maintained in a secure and confidential manner.

ADA policy defines active dental patients of record as individuals who have had dental service(s) provided by the dentist in the past twelve (12) months or patients of record who have had dental service(s) provided by the dentist in the past twenty four (24) months, but not within the past twelve (12) months. It also goes on to say that an inactive dental patient of record is any individual who has become a patient of record and has not received any dental service(s) by the dentist in the past twenty-four (24) months. It’s a good idea to also check with local laws and regulations to be sure you’re in compliance with any requirements.

Make sure your practice has a functional and documented process for moving patients from active to inactive status on a regular basis.

All records, active and inactive, should be maintained carefully to be certain that they are not destroyed or lost. Record retention is a matter of applicable state and federal law and an issue of risk management. In general, records may be destroyed for inactive adult patients who have not been in seven years (longer in some states) or at the expiration of the statute of limitations on contract and tort actions. Start by referencing your state or local dental association found in the link under "Additional Resources" below.

The oral health record of inactive minors generally should not be destroyed until seven years after a child reaches majority (21 years plus seven years, or 28 years of age in some states). Check your state dental association for information about state law and requirements regarding record retention. Also contact your liability carrier for their recommendations.

Additional information is available in Dental Records, an online publication developed by the ADA’s Council on Dental Practice and Division of Legal Affairs and available free to ADA members.

Additional Resources: