Dental Desensitization for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder through Graduated Exposure, Reinforcement, and Reinforcement-Fading

  • Lauren CarterEmail author
  • Jill M. Harper
  • James K. Luiselli


Many persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities resist basic dental care leading to poor oral health. The present study evaluated the effects of a dental desensitization intervention for two students who had autism spectrum disorder and would not tolerate tooth cleaning and examination. Intervention consisted of gradually exposing the students to steps within a desensitization hierarchy, reinforcing compliance, and progressively fading-eliminating reinforcement. Familiar care-providers implemented intervention within a simulated dental setting at their school. Both students completed intervention successfully and one of them was able to tolerate procedures during visits to a dentist’s office. We discuss the clinical and research implications of these findings.


Autism spectrum disorder Desensitization Dental care Graduated exposure Positive reinforcement 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from the parents of both participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren Carter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jill M. Harper
    • 1
  • James K. Luiselli
    • 1
  1. 1.Melmark New EnglandAndoverUSA

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