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J Am Dent Assoc. 2011 Mar;142(3):281-7.

Applied behavior analysis: behavior management of children with autism spectrum disorders in dental environments.

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There are a limited number of studies addressing behavior management techniques and procedural modifications that dentists can use to treat people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


The authors conducted a search of the dental and behavioral analytic literature to identify management techniques that address problem behaviors exhibited by children with ASDs in dental and other health-related environments.


Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a science in which procedures are based on the principles of behavior through systematic experimentation. Clinicians have used ABA procedures successfully to modify socially significant behaviors of people with ASD. Basic behavior management techniques currently used in dentistry may not encourage people with cognitive and behavioral disabilities, such as ASD, to tolerate simple in-office dental procedures consistently. Instead, dental care providers often are required to use advanced behavior management techniques to complete simple in-office procedures such as prophylaxis, sealant placement and obtaining radiographs. ABA procedures can be integrated in the dental environment to manage problem behaviors often exhibited by children with an ASD.


The authors found no evidence-based procedural modifications that address the behavioral characteristics and problematic behaviors of children with an ASD in a dental environment. Further research in this area should be conducted.


Knowledge and in-depth understanding of behavioral principles is essential when a dentist is concerned with modifying behaviors. Using ABA procedures can help dentists manage problem behaviors effectively and systematically when performing routine dental treatment. Being knowledgeable about each patient's behavioral characteristics and the parents' level of involvement is important in the successful integration of the procedures and reduction of in-office time.

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