Between 30 percent and 80 percent of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have oral problems of some kind. If you do too, you’re not alone.
HIV can destroy immune cells that normally fight off oral diseases and infections, which can significantly impact immune system function. Oral problems can also reduce your self-confidence when they affect your appearance, and they can negatively impact your overall health.
Members of myHIVteam know about the struggle of keeping up with oral hygiene. In their own words:
Do you struggle with dental health while living with HIV? The good news is, there are some solutions and tips for tackling oral hygiene problems. You can implement many of these changes without drastically changing your lifestyle.
According to the American Dental Association, people living with HIV may experience these oral health care issues:
Many of these conditions cause discomfort and pain, and they can stick around for a long time.
Between 8 percent and 18 percent of children living with HIV/AIDS also experience swelling of their salivary glands. This can cause dry mouth and other problems if it persists.
Oral health conditions which are greater risks for those living with HIV include:
To read more about these conditions, what causes them, and how they’re treated, take a look at the National HIV Curriculum’s informative list.
See your dentist or hygienist often for regular cleanings and inspections. If you don’t have a regular dentist, your doctor or health care provider can often recommend one.
When it comes to questions about your oral health, you should always seek advice from your doctor or dentist first. They know your medical background and can provide you with clear, medically sound advice on where to go next. Many of the oral conditions in this article can look alike, and it can be hard to determine what you have by looking at photos online. Talk to your doctor or dentist about the best treatment for you.
Maintain your oral health by flossing and brushing your teeth for approximately two minutes twice every day — or after every meal. You should use:
Ask your dentist about the best products for you.
You should also regularly (at least once a month) check your tongue, lips, gums, cheeks, and the roof of your mouth for signs of discoloration, sores, bumps, or other lesions.
To treat conditions such as sores, bumps, or discoloration, your doctor or dentist may recommend:
Make sure you always take your HIV medication on time. Treatment of HIV is vital to preventing oral issues. According to the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry, advancements in antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV have improved oral problems associated with the condition. Talk about your treatment plan with your doctor or health care team to ensure your ART is tailored to your needs.
Prevent oral health problems by eating healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoiding food and drinks that are high in sugar. Sugar can contribute to cavities and other tooth decay and gum problems.
Having dry mouth can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends the following actions to keep your mouth hydrated:
It’s not legal for a dental clinic to refuse care because you’re HIV-positive. But depending on where you live and your insurance coverage and financial resources, it can be difficult to find care. Approximately 58 percent to 64 percent of people living with HIV or AIDS do not get routine oral care.
Prevention is key to avoiding oral hygiene problems. Here are three options if you’re in a situation that makes finding a dentist difficult:
On myHIVteam, the social network for people living with HIV and their loved ones, more than 35,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with HIV.
Are you living with HIV and struggling to care for your teeth or prevent oral health problems? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.