Dental Visits May Soon be Easier for Children With Autism



The dental office has proven to be troublesome for children with autism spectrum disorder. But that may change soon.

A recent study explored the feasibility of adapting the dental environment to be easier to handle for children with autism spectrum disorder. The research was conducted at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The study appears in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

A regular dental environment, with its bright lights, loud sounds and many other sensations, can cause anxiety.

To compile the research, there were 44 patients studied—22 children with autism and 22 without. They underwent two professional dental cleanings. One of the cleanings occurred in a regular dental environment and the other in a sensory-adapted dental environment (without overhead office lights and headlamps and playing soothing music). The adapted dental environment also included a seat cover that looked like a butterfly. Each child’s physiological anxiety, behavioral distress and pain intensity was analyzed.

The data showed that there was less psychological anxiety and lower pain and sensory discomfort for all children in the sensory-adapted dental environment. Still, the study could aid in the improvement of oral health for children with autism—a group that usually suffers from poor oral health.

The information could also provide some cost saving in the healthcare system in regards to the extra staff members and more anesthesia generally necessary for children with autism.

The next study of this nature will include 110 children to offer a larger sample size of data for the researchers.

One of the secondary goals of this study was to determine the impact of sensory component on behavioral issues in a dental environment.

The study is important because one in 68 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder.