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HIV and Oral Health

Snr By Dr Poonam Sachdev , Expert Content / Jan 16, 2013
HIV and Oral Health

AIDS impairs body’s ability to fight off certain infections and illnesses and can even cause opportunistic infections. Oral health of the person with HIV also tends to effected due to weak immune system.

The virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is known as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The infection is transmitted from one person to another by blood-to-blood contact (blood transfusions, HIV-infected needles), sexual contact, from pregnant woman with HIV infection to her baby during pregnancy or delivery, and through breast-feeding.

The immune system is weakened by HIV infection. This weakening of immune system is called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS impairs the body’s ability to fight off certain illnesses and infections and can even cause opportunistic" infections (infections which occur due to weakened immune system).


Dental Problems Associated with HIV/AIDS

Dental problems that commonly occur in people with HIV/AIDS include

  • Sore bleeding gums,
  • Herpes sores in the mouth, and
  • Fungal and candida (yeast) infections. Oral thrush may be among the first signs of AIDS.

However you do not definitely have AIDS/HIV infection if you have any of these symptoms. These symptoms are seen in several other diseases. Consult your doctor if you want to confirm whether you are infected with HIV. Your doctor will do blood tests to confirm if you have HIV infection.


How Do I Know if I Have HIV/AIDS


Blood tests for HIV virus can confirm or rule out if you HIV infection. AIDS in a person with HIV infection is diagnosed based on certain specific criteria. Warning signs of infection with HIV are not reliable for diagnosis of HIV infection/AIDS. Some people with HIV infection may not develop any symptoms at all for many years.


Some common warning signs of infection with HIV are

  • Rapid loss of weight
  • Dry cough
  • Recurrent fever or intense night sweats
  • Extreme unexplained fatigue
  • Presence of swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
  • Chronic diarrhea (diarrhea for more than a week)
  • Oral thrush
  • Pneumonia (infection in the lungs)
  • Memory loss, depression and other neurological problems


Can I Get HIV at the Dentist's Office

Many people think that HIV may be transmitted during dental treatments and procedure. But remember that your doctor will take adequate precautions between each and every patient to prevent the transmission of any infection and not only HIV virus. Universal precautions to prevent transmission of an infection are—use of gloves, facemasks and eye protection gears, and sterilization of all handpieces (drills) and other dental equipments for every patient by the recommended sterilization procedures. If an instrument cannot be sterilized it has to discarded in special containers. If you are concerned that you can get HIV infection at your dentist, talk to him or her. Ask all your doubts as this can put your mind at ease.


HIV/AIDS: oral effects


Oral Effects

The immune system is weakened by HIV infection. This weakening of immune system is called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS impairs the body’s ability to fight off certain illnesses and infections and can even cause opportunistic" infections (infections which occur due to weakened immune system). The oral effects of HIV and AIDS are also caused due to the weakening of immune system.

Some common oral conditions seen in people with HIV/AIDS are

  • Dry mouth or xerostomia
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) in the neck
  • Thrush (oral candidiasis, a fungal infection)
  • Hairy leukoplakia caused by viral infection (Epstein-Barr virus)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Periodontal (gum) disease due to oral bacterial infections
  • Enlarged or swollen salivary glands
  • Herpes simplex virus infection, Human papilloma virus lesions
  • Recurrent Canker sores (aphthous ulcers)


In HIV infection changes in the mouth may reflect weakening of the immune system. Different oral conditions are seen with variation in levels of activity of your immune system. Some are seen in the early stages of weakening of the immune system and others are seen at later stages or with severe weakening of the immune system.

Consult your dentist if you have HIV infection. He or she can tell you how to do an oral exam and what the specific things that you have to look for in your mouth. Besides this your dentist may also guide you regarding appropriate oral care.


Oral Care for HIV Patients

Consult your dentist regularly. If your immune system is still strong (as shown by your blood tests) dental visit every six months are adequate. People with advanced disease should see a dentist more frequently.

  • Brush properly twice a day and floss daily. Rinse your mouth well after eating. Rinse your mouth with fluoride mouthwashes or other mouth rinses as prescribed by your dentist.
  • You may have dry mouth (xerostomia) due to the medications. Dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay, gingivitis, thrush and periodontal (gum) disease as there is less saliva to wash away sugars, food particles, bacteria and the acids produced by the bacteria. Use fluoride rinse or gel or a saliva substitute as recommended by your dentist to counteract the increased risk of tooth decay.
  • If your child has HIV/AIDS - teach your child to rinse mouth after eating or taking medications (as most medications have high amounts of sugar to make them taste good) to prevent tooth decay. Tooth decay is considered a serious condition in children with HIV as it can cause pain, infection, difficulty in chewing—all of which can lead to failure to gain weight and malnourishment.
  • Eat a well balanced diet. If your mouth is sore and painful, avoid spices and hard to eat foods like raw vegetables, dry crackers and nuts. Eat soft and moist foods.

At the dentist

It is important that you inform your dentist about your medical condition, medications and your blood tests. Consult your dentist regarding the oral problems you may have due to HIV infection or it’s treatment. Ask your dentist about the precautions you need to take to avoid or decrease the possible oral side effects. In most people with HIV or AIDS antibiotics are not needed before major dental treatment. However if your immune system is very weak as shown by your neutrophil count your dentist may use antibiotics. You may be advised to use an antibiotic mouthwash before and after treatment as well.




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