It is funny how these Survival News article ideas come to mind. This article was stimulated by both my visit to the dentist last Thursday (I was a bad girl. I had not been to see my dentist in over a year. BAD. BAD.) and by my friend Dr. Tom Sparkman, who started the Homecoming 2000 benefit "Tooth AID: A Month of Smiles." I decided to write on dental care because we have not had much focus on this topic. It is an important, yet overlooked part of HIV health care. A study conducted by the American Dental Association revealed that only 20% of Americans brush as frequently as their dentist recommends, while 44% floss daily, and 21% never floss. Yikes! We need to change those numbers. It is really not that difficult to keep our teeth and gums healthy. We just need to take a little time out every day. So?
Why is Dental Care Important for People Living with HIV?
As I was reading, I noticed that many articles stated that mouth and throat problems are sometimes the first signs of HIV disease. I was surprised because you never hear that mentioned when we talk about "the first signs of HIV." The most common problems include: oral candidiasis, hairy leukoplakia, gingivitis, and periodontal disease, as well as dry mouth and Kaposi's Sarcoma. I will spend the rest of the article explaining the symptoms and treatment of these conditions and end with the basics of how to brush and floss. (Don't laugh -- I am not always sure I do it the correct way!)
There are three predominant types of candidiasis seen in the HIV+ population:
Persistent candidiasis in HIV positive folks may require therapy such as fluconazole, as well as topical therapies such as nystatin, clotrimazole and amphotericin. Ketoconazole has also been used; however, it has a history of causing side effects such as rashes, nausea and, on rare occasions, jaundice. Some research says it may be less effective. It has also proven to have some interaction problems if drugs like refampicin are being used at the same time.
Some complementary therapists suggest that people with mild outbreaks can benefit from avoiding refined sugars, a source of nutrition for thrush. This means avoiding sweet or starchy foods as well as alcohol. (The Yeast Connection Handbook by Dr. William G. Crook is an excellent book to read about this subject.) Diluted tea tree oil has also been used as a mouthwash. Treatment usually lasts about two weeks.
This condition may cause mouth or throat pain, or an unusual taste. It is one of the most common illnesses that people with HIV experience. Estimates suggest that more than 90% of people with HIV will have an outbreak of thrush during their HIV illness. This is because the fungal organisms that cause thrush freely live in most human mouths.
Most outbreaks of thrush occur when the T-cell count has fallen bellow 400. However, episodes may also be experienced when other factors such as prolonged stress or depression are present. The use of antibiotics for long periods of time can also cause an outbreak to occur.
Symptoms of Hairy Leukoplakia:
The use of acyclovir (Zovirax) will often clear up the condition as will propolis tincture. This is a product of bees that, when applied directly to the plaques, has shown some results. However, if any of these treatments are stopped, the plaques will often return.
Symptoms of Periodontal Problems:
If dry mouth is caused by an allergic reaction, this may be alleviated by avoiding dairy products or by taking horseradish or garlic tablets.
To Get Rid of Dry Mouth:
Don't underestimate the power of your saliva. It fights bacteria. Without a good flow of saliva, the growth of bacteria, candidiasis, and tooth decay increase.
This condition appears as red or purple nodules on the walls of the mouth or on the tonsils. They can also be associated with pain, bleeding, and inflammation, and bulky lesions can cause interference with the normal functions of chewing or talking.
The lesions may be treated in a number of ways. Surgical removal, localized radiotherapy or systemic chemotherapy are common treatments.
(Information from The Body, http://www.thebody.com/cgi/oralans.html)
Q: What is thrush and what causes it? What medication is used to treat thrush?
A: Thrush is a common term for pseudomembranous candidiasis, which is caused by fungal organisms. The most common causative agent is Candida albicans, but our recent research has shown an increased prevalence of non-albicans species such as Candida glabrata and Candid Krusei. The difficulties these non-albicans species bring is that, for the most part, they do not respond to exiting therapies.
Medications used to threat thrush are based on the extent of disease. For mild-to-moderate infections, I recommend topical therapies such as Mycelex troches. I do not recommend the use of nystatin swish and swallow due to the high glucose concentration (50%) as well as the length of time a person in expected to keep this medication in the mouth (five minutes). This is the time nystatin needs to be in contact with the candidal plaques to be effective. For moderate-to-severe bouts of thrush, I recommend Diflucan (fluconazole) which is dosed at 200 mg. on day one, then 100 mg. a day for the rest of a two-week period of time. Whether you are using a topical or systemic medication, treatment should last for at least two weeks; this helps prevent against recurrence of the infection.
Q: How important is it for my dentist to know about my HIV status?
A: You ask a most important question! It is my belief that oral health is an integral part of primary care; therefore, any changes in your medical history, including HIV status, should be made known to your dental care provider. Your oral health should be monitored closely as early signs of disease progression can first present in the mouth. The same can be said for a person living with many other conditions, including diabetes and cancer. Changes to the soft tissue including oral hairy leukoplakia and candidiasis can be diagnostic of increased viral load and signal a need to begin antiretroviral therapy. I believe these points are a much better reason to inform your dentist. Not all dental health care workers realize the importance of these signs and symptoms, but if made aware of your status, they may pay more attention to soft tissue exams.
Now for the reality check: Whereas attitudes toward treating HIV-infected people in the dental setting have improved, there are still providers who would rather not. Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act includes access to places of public accommodation, such as dental offices, many choose not to pursue legal action when denied care. Many do not want to risk rejection in the first place, thus the reluctance to disclose HIV status. My question to you: would you want someone taking care of your present dental needs who would not if they knew your HIV status?
Some Other Things to Consider Before Deciding on Your Dentist and Disclosing Your HIV Status:
Things You Can Do To Keep Your Teeth and Gums Healthy:
How Do You Brush Your Teeth?
How Do You Floss Correctly?
Begin by wrapping an eighteen-inch strand around your middle fingers and hold a one-inch section tightly. Ease floss between your teeth. Clean up and down several times while curving around teeth and the gumline. Don't scrub.
Remember, poor oral health, and problems such as abscess formation, may lead to further suppression of the immune system. So, now that you are thinking about it, pick up the phone and call your dentist to make an appointment. Keep in mind that many dentists are booked three to four months in advance, so call as soon as you put down your newsletter!
Web site that provides information on HIV dental care as well as referrals to HIV dental programs.
The Body: An AIDS and HIV Information Resource
Infectious Disease Oral Health Center of Grady Health System
Dr. David Reznick
Dr. Tom Sparkman
Dr. Chip Hill
Dr. Ida Lanier
Stone Mountain, GA
Dr. Bert Scannell
DMD Medical College of Georgia School of Denistry