If you’ve experienced more dental health problems since contracting HIV, you’re not alone. HIV can increase your risk for oral health problems like dry mouth, gum disease (gingivitis), tooth loss from severe gum infection (periodontitis), and tooth decay. Some HIV medications can also cause dry mouth, which can contribute to tooth decay. The best way to protect your teeth is to visit the dentist regularly, brush and floss according to your dentist’s instructions, and communicate with your provider if you experience any problems with your teeth or mouth.
Many myHIVteam members are regulars in the dentist’s office. In some cases, they’re visiting for preventive care: “I’ve been going to the dentist/hygienist every three months since diagnosis 21 years ago.”
Unfortunately, many members often find themselves in the dental chair for serious dental problems. “I went for a second opinion about getting dentures and they confirmed that I need them,” reported a myHIVteam member with tooth decay and receding gums. Another member shared his dental problems, “After having all my upper teeth pulled this past week, I'm dealing with pain and very little energy.”
Bringing a friend or loved one can help make scary dental procedures a little easier. One myHIVteam member wrote, “I am very nervous today because I’m getting four teeth pulled. My sister-in-law is coming with me because she is my biggest support.”
Sharing your full medical history, including HIV status and medications, with your dentist can help ensure you get the best dental care. However, some members worry about disclosing their HIV status to their dentists for fear of stigma or negative reactions. Members diagnosed in the 1980s and 1990s encountered some of the reactions others worry about. One member shared, “Back in 1996 my HIV doctor recommended a dentist he knew would treat positive patients. In those days many dentists would not take you. This actually happened to me in 1992. My hygienist refused to treat me as she said her husband was afraid!”
Thankfully, many members report much better interactions with dentists today. One member nervous to disclose his status reported, “It was no big deal to them.” Another reassured a hesitant member, “We told our dentist our HIV status when we first started going to him 14 years ago, and he and his staff have never been anything but super to us.”
Members suggest those leery of dentists to reach out to HIV support organizations for referrals to providers who treat HIV positive people and encourage them to share their full medical history with dentists to ensure they receive the best care.
On myHIVteam, the social network and online support group for those living with HIV, members talk about a range of personal experiences and struggles. Dental health is one of the most discussed topics.
Here are some conversations about dental health:
Here are some question-and-answer threads about dental health:
Can you relate? Have you had problems with your teeth? Share your experiences in the comments below or on myHIVteam.