A two-year grant of $531,376 has been awarded to the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Principal investigator Sharon Cermak and co-investigators Jose Polido, Marian Williams, Michael Dawson and Christianne Lane will study the effectiveness of sensory adapted dental environments (SADE) for children, including those who have difficulty tolerating oral care in the dental clinic.
Two groups of ethnically diverse children ages 6-12 will be studied: Twenty will be children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and 20 will be typically developing children, including those who are over-reactive to sensory stimulation.
Such children commonly exhibit anxiety and negative behavioral reactions when confronted with experiential aspects of visits to the dentist’s office.
The SADE intervention group will include environmental adaptations such as dimmed lighting, soothing music and the application of a special vest, which provides calming deep-pressure sensations, all of which are designed to reduce the triggering of a child’s anxiety and behavioral problems while at the dentist.
If this study, which is being conducted in collaboration with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, produces promising results, investigators plan to more comprehensively test the intervention in a full-scale randomized clinical trial.
According to USC professor Cermak, the planned research will contribute to a “safer, more efficient, less-costly treatment” while having “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 sensory sensitivities and/or dental anxieties.”
Florence Clark, associate dean of the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, noted how this project exemplifies occupational therapy’s continued interdisciplinary collaboration with other health science professions like psychology and dentistry.
Because occupational science and occupational therapy is a division of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, the study strengthens the alignment between the two academic units in their mission to improve holistic and systemic health.