Date of Award

Fall 12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Dental Hygiene

Committee Director

Ann Bruhn

Committee Member

Denise M. Claiborne

Committee Member

Jonna Bobzien


Problem: Given the growing number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over the past decades and their significant need for access to dental care, it becomes essential to have dental hygienists adequately prepared to provide care to child patients with ASD. This study aimed to assess dental hygienists’ practices, attitudes, and confidence levels in providing care for child patients with ASD. Methods: An 18–item, adapted survey was validated and administered to participants at the Virtual ODU Continuing Education Annual Conference. Data was collected via Qualtrics® from 187 dental hygienist attendees. The survey domains studied included demographics, practice settings, attitudes, practices, and confidence levels. Survey methods included multiple–choice questions with Likert Scales responses ranging from “strongly disagree to strongly agree,” “never to often,” “little confidence to very confident,” “unconfident to very confident,” and “no impact to high impact,” and an open–ended question. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data. Fisher's exact test was performed to determine if years of experience predictor practicing dental hygienists’ practices, attitudes, and confidence levels in providing care to child patients with ASD. A p–value of ≤0.05 was considered statistically significant. Old Dominion University Health Sciences Human Subjects Review Committee approved the study as exempt (#1818330–2). Results: Of the 187 attendees, the response rate was 31% (n=58). Although most participants, 87.93% (n=51), reported providing care to a child patient with ASD in a clinical setting, 82.35% (n=42) reported the percentage of child patients with ASD treated within a month as 1–10%. The majority used ASD–specific practices to overcome the characteristic challenges and had positive attitudes and confidence in providing care to child patients with ASD. However, the attitudes of participants with ≤10 years of experience were significantly more positive than those of participants with >10 years of experience on understanding the unique needs of children with ASD (p=0.04), understanding the dental needs of children with ASD (p=0.01), comfort level working with children with ASD (p=0.04), and enjoyment in providing care to children with ASD (p=10 years of experience (p=0.03). Over half of the participants, 51.72% (n=30), disagreed that their dental hygiene education program prepared them to treat child patients with ASD, and almost all the participants, 91.38% (n=53), were interested in the interventions that reduce dental anxiety in child patients with ASD and completing continuing education courses. Conclusion: Years of experience and prior training impacted dental hygienists’ reported attitudes and confidence in caring for child patients with ASD. Increased curricular content and clinical experiences in treating child patients with ASD may be needed to give dental hygienists the necessary skills to treat child patients with ASD.


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Copyright, 2022, by Fatimah Abdulrahman Alshehri, All Rights Reserved.