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News / December 1, 2008

Good oral health

by Guy Hiscott

A US dental school is leading the effort to raise awareness of the importance of oral health as part of World AIDS Day today (1 December).

Forty million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS and from the onset of the epidemic, oral health problems were identified as key indicators of the disease.

Antiretroviral treatment has reduced both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection but, according to Dr Mahvash Navazesh, a professor with the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, ‘Medications are allowing people with HIV/AIDS to live longer, more productive lives, but they also create another set of oral health issues – saliva, the body’s natural cleansing process, is disrupted, prompting the development of oral lesions in many of these patients.’

Ninety per cent of people living with HIV have one or more HIV-associated oral lesions over the course of the disease.

‘These lesions are often a harbinger for the disease’s progression to full-blown AIDS,’ says Dr Veronica Green, assistant professor of Clinical Dentistry with the USC School of Dentistry.

She adds: ‘Access to oral health care, both for the person at risk for HIV infection and the person already living with HIV, is critical.’

For the HIV-positive person who is unaware of his/her condition, lack of access to dental care represents missed opportunities for an early screening, diagnosis and testing for HIV.

Oral symptoms provide dentists with the clues to diagnose the disease before the patient has seen his or her own health care provider or been tested for HIV.

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