University of Southern California
Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Sensory Adapted Dental Environments

Principal Investigator: Sharon Cermak NIDCR_logo

Funding Source: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Project Period: 09/15/2011 – 08/31/2014

Award Number: 1 R34 DE022263-01

Total Award: $531,376

USC: Jose Polido, Marian Williams, Michael Dawson, Christianne Lane

USC: Joel Hay
Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel: Michele Shapiro

Abstract: The goal of this research project is to collect information that will support a later clinical trial on the effectiveness of a specially adapted dental environment for children who have difficulty tolerating oral care in the dental clinic. Within this project, two groups of children will be studied: children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and typically developing children, including those who are over-reactive to sensory stimulation. Commonly, such children exhibit anxiety and negative behavioral reactions when confronted with experiential aspects of dental visits such as exposure to bright fluorescent lighting, touch in or around the mouth, or the texture and smell of various oral care products. In the grant, we will pilot test a sensory adapted dental environment (SADE) that has a strong potential to reduce anxiety and behavioral problems among the targeted groups of children. The SADE intervention includes such adaptations as dimmed lighting, exposure to soothing music, and application of a special vest which provides deep pressure sensations that are calming. If our preliminary assessment produces promising results, we later plan to more comprehensively test the intervention in a full-scale randomized clinical trial.

Research participants will be 40 ethnically diverse children aged 6-12 years, 20 with ASD and 20 who are typically developing. Each child will undergo two dental cleanings four months apart: dental cleaning in a standard dental environment, and dental cleaning in the sensory adapted environment. For each group of children (i.e., ASD and typically developing), the two conditions will be compared in their effects on anxiety and negative behavioral reactions, as measured by videotape coding, psychophysiological indices, and various rating scales.

Because the planned research will contribute to safer, more efficient, less costly treatment, it has the potential to revolutionize clinic-based dental care for the growing population of children with ASD, as well as for typically developing children who have dental anxieties. The potential cost-savings and contribution to child comfort are dramatic, as potentially more than one-fourth of all children may benefit.

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USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
1540 Alcazar Street, CHP 133
Los Angeles, CA 90089-9003
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The USC entry-level master's degree program is fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education® (ACOTE). ACOTE c/o Accreditation Department, American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.®, 4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda, MD 20814-3449, (301) 652-6611 x2914,

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