For dental patients with HIV, obtaining regular care is crucial, yet is often neglected. Many Americans in society at large avoid checkups due to cost or because nothing is bothering them, but those with immune disorders such as AIDS or HIV are at risk for a variety of fungal, bacterial, and viral infections by neglecting their teeth. Often without insurance, fearful of the dentist, and embarrassed by their positive status, they ignore their dental needs.
Why Dental Patients with HIV Need Treatment
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), “oral infections, mouth ulcers, and other severe dental conditions associated with HIV infections go untreated more than twice as often as other health problems related to the disease.” Lack of care poses several distinct risks for those diagnosed as HIV-positive.
Some drugs used to treat HIV and other immune disorders reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth that could wash away food particles and bacteria from the teeth. Without a good supply of saliva, which contains a natural antibacterial agent, dry mouth (xerostomia) results, which leads to more to decay and soft tissue infections in the mouth.
When the immune system is weak, patients with low CD4 cell counts are likely to develop oral health problems such as mouth ulcers, gingivitis, and oral candidiasis (thrush).
Tooth and gum infection can impact general health and lead to cardiovascular disease as a result of inflammation. Current studies confirm that there is a link between heart disease and gum disease even among the HIV-negative population. Links between gum disease and diabetes have also been proven.
HIV positive individuals have a higher incidence of human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cell changes in the mouth that lead to oral cancer.
Untreated dental problems in HIV patients can lead to an inability to obtain proper nutrition. When teeth are missing, loose, or aching, there may be a little incentive to eat and take in the right mix of nutrients, vitamins, and calories.
Why HIV Patients Might Avoid the Dentist
Some patients with HIV may not be conscious of the dangers inherent in neglecting preventative and acute dental health. When individuals lack resources, insurance, or access to clinics or publicly funded programs to address dental problems, they may not seek treatment until they experience the severe pain of an abscess or other condition. For some, with an HIV diagnosis, going to the dentist means revealing their HIV status, which can be embarrassing.
Dentists, as other medical professionals, are bound by the Equality Act of 2010, which prohibits a dental office from refusing treatment to a patient with HIV. As long as personnel follow standard infection control procedures such as using masks and gloves, there is no risk of infection. A patient who withholds their status put themselves at risk of misdiagnosis of certain conditions or of potential drug interactions if they are taking HIV drugs and the dentist prescribes something for a condition he finds.
Dental patients with HIV are welcome at Oral Surgery of Utah, where all patients receive the same care and service.