Building a Friendlier Dentist

(NBC News) A trip to the dentist may be uncomfortable for some of us, but it can be absolutely terrifying for children who suffer from severe sensory issues, especially those with autism.

The grating noise of dental tools in his mouth sends Sir Warren, who is on the Autism spectrum, into panic mode.

His mother, Danita Blanco, had to hold sir down during cleanings.

“It hurt. It really hurt to see my son suffer,” Blanco says.

A sensory adapted dental environment may help. It’s a collaboration between the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

“What we’re trying to do is basically eliminate some of the triggers that we know can lead to adverse behavior in a child with autism,” explains Dr. Jose Polido of Children’s Hospital.

Lights are dimmed, soothing music is played and slow-moving visuals are projected onto the ceiling.

Some children are comforted by a special seat cover called a “butterfly” that wraps them in deep-pressure hug.

Researchers tested the adapted environment in a small study of 44 children, half with Autism.

“So far the children are showing less behavioral distress. We’re seeing that with both typical children and children with autism spectrum disorders,” says Dr. Sharon Cermak.

The environment could be adapted for children who have different sensory problems, even otherwise healthy kids like Jake Kirshen. He simply doesn’t like going to the dentist.

“I was looking at the bubbles and they just kind of relaxed me and made me not feel as stressed out,” Jake said after his appointment.

The changes also worked for Sir.

Children in the study also reported the dental cleanings didn’t hurt as much.

The researchers will next test the program with a larger group of kids.

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