Health Topics

Healthy Living

December 2011
Letting in AIDS through the Mouth
Dr Anurupa Roy

Known  Facts
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
HIV usually enters our body during unprotected sexual intercourse, during blood transfusions, through contaminated needles during such transfusions or tattooing, and/or from an infected pregnant mother to her child.

Unknown Facts
  • The chances of contracting AIDS are very high at a dental office.
  • A dental surgeon can detect it at a very early stage of the disease.
Sure you’re confused between the two aforementioned sentences. Not surprising, considering that the two appear contradictory. You see, dental instruments come in contact with patients’ body fluids from the oral cavity. Naturally, it is mandatory to check for their sterilization before using them on a patient. Any callousness on that score, or the fact that they have not been discarded after use may result in the transmission of HIV. The risk of transmission may also get compounded through blood-contaminated aerosols from dental motor instruments.

How HIV infection affects the oral cavity
Apart from numbness, difficulty in swallowing, facial palsy, and painful swollen lymph nodes, the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus may cause oral infections such as:
  • Carries and Dry Mouth – Manifests itself as xerostomia (a lack of saliva in the mouth). Artificial saliva products or use of sugar-free citrus candies such as lemon drops that stimulate saliva production is advised.
  • Gingivitis and Necrotizing Periodontitis - Loose teeth due to soft tissue and bone loss, bleeding gums, halitosis, or deep jaw pain.
  • Hairy Leukoplakia - Hairy white lesions mostly on the lateral margins of the tongue, spreading behind upto the floor of the mouth; caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Herpes zoster infection - Unilateral vesicles(boils) that break and scab; cause neuropathy after inflammation.
  • Candidiasis – Fungal infection in which white lesions develop anywhere inside the mouth or pharynx. These are often mistaken for food deposits, and are rubbed off. Alternately, red erythematous patches or angular chelitis develops in which the corners of the mouth crack. This is often mistaken for chapped lips.
What you must do to decrease the risk
  • Insist on the use of properly sterilized dental equipment
  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Brush and floss teeth regularly (at least twice a day)
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Create awareness about the spread of HIV at dental clinics

Dr Anurupa Roy is a Dental Consultant Manipal Hospital Bangalore

  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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