Dental Tribune America

Dental desensitization protocols support children with autism

July 06, 2017

SEATTLE, USA: A study conducted at the University of Washington has suggested that desensitization programs, including repeated visits, could help many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) receive needed dental care. The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a dental desensitization protocol for children with ASD and determined characteristics associated with a successful dental examination.

Lead author of the study and clinical associate professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the university Dr. Travis Nelson explained that children with autism are less likely to receive dental care than their typically developing peers. In many cases, this is due to behavioral limitations. However, the researchers found that, given the opportunity to practice dental skills at their own pace, the majority of patients with autism in the study were able to sit for an examination with a dental mirror.

Overall, 168 children with ASD who participated in a university-based dental desensitization program were included in the study, and the authors performed a retrospective review of their clinical behavioral data and pre-visit questionnaires. More than 77 percent of the children were able to receive an examination within one to two dental visits with desensitization protocols and 88 percent within five visits, according to the study.

Desensitization was effective in achieving a minimal threshold examination while seated in a dental chair for most children. Those with characteristics consistent with a milder presentation of ASD were more likely to be able to undergo successful dental examination.

“The protocols we used are very simple and could be implemented elsewhere to help children with autism access needed dental services,” Nelson said.

The study, titled “Predicting successful dental examinations for children with autism spectrum disorder in the context of a dental desensitization program,” was published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

1 Comment

  • Nicole Anderson says:


    I would love to learn more about your study. I work with children with ASD and currently one of our kiddos needs a desensitization program for visiting the dentist. I would love to learn about your protocol to see if it might be beneficial for my kiddo. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you,

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