Dental Problems Associated with HIV/AIDS

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood contact (blood transfusions, HIV-infected needles) and sexual contact. In addition, an infected pregnant woman can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding.

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) occurs when the HIV infection has weakened a person's immune system to the point that it has difficulty fighting off certain illnesses and infections. "Opportunistic" infections also occur, taking the opportunity a weakened immune system gives to cause illness.

How do I know if I have HIV/AIDS?

Dental problems such as sore bleeding gums, herpes sores in the mouth, and fungal and candida (yeast) infections may be among the first signs of AIDS. However, you should not assume you are infected if you have any of these symptoms as these occur in the general population as well. The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. Consult with your doctor or other healthcare professional.

A positive HIV test result does not mean that you have AIDS. AIDS is a medical diagnosis made by a doctor based on specific criteria. You also cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected with HIV. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.

The following may be warning signs of infection with HIV:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Profound and unexplained fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
  • Diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week
  • White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth or in the throat
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders.

How do I prevent HIV/AIDS?

HIV transmission can occur when blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk from an infected person enters your body. The best way to prevent HIV is to avoid activities that allow the virus to enter your body. For more information on HIV/AIDS prevention, consult your doctor or other healthcare professional.

Many people worry about the risk of infection through a blood transfusion. The Australian blood supply is considered to be among the safest in the world. It is stringently tested for a myriad of diseases, including HIV1.

Can I get HIV at the dental surgery?

Due to the nature of dental treatment, many people fear that HIV may be transmitted during treatment. Universal precautions are used between each and every patient to prevent the transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases.

These precautions require dental professionals to wear gloves, facemasks and eye protection, and to sterilise all handpieces (drills) and other dental instruments for every patient. Specific sterilisation procedures are followed, as outlined in the Australian Dental Association’s Infection Control Guidelines. Items that cannot be sterilised are discarded in special containers. After each patient’s visit, gloves are discarded, hands are washed and a new pair of gloves is used for the next patient.

If you are anxious, spending a few minutes asking your dentist any questions you may have about health and safety precautions can put your mind at ease.

How is HIV/AIDS treated?

Today there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are other treatments that can prevent or treat some of the illnesses associated with AIDS. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment.

1 Safety and Testing. InAustralian Red Cross Blood Service. (2010). Retrieved 25th October, 2011 from http://www.donateblood.com.au/learn/donor-safety