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HIV and Your Mouth

February 2013

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Table of Contents

Oral Problems Are Common

Oral (mouth) problems are very common in people living with HIV (HIV+). Anywhere from a quarter to a half of all HIV+ people will have oral problems that arise because of their weakened immune systems. This puts HIV+ people at greater risk for gum problems (gingivitis or periodontal disease), mouth infections, and sores.

Oral problems can cause discomfort and embarrassment and affect how you feel about yourself. Oral problems can also lead to trouble with eating and speaking. If mouth pain or tenderness makes it difficult to chew and swallow, or if you can not taste as well as you used to, you may not eat the food you need to stay well. It is important to see your dentist or health care provider as soon as possible if you notice any changes in your mouth.

Oral Conditions That Are More Common in HIV+ People

ConditionWhat and WhereTreatment
Aphthous ulcers
(canker sores)
Painful red sores that might have a yellow-gray film on top. Usually on the underside of the tongue or the inside of the cheeks and lips.Mild cases -- Over-the-counter cream or prescription mouthwash that contains steroids.
More severe cases -- steroids in a pill form, or, in rare cases, thalidomide.
Herpes Simplex
(cold sores) are caused by viral infection
One or more small blisters or ulcers on the lips or on the roof of the mouth and/or gumsAntiviral medications (e.g., acyclovir) in pill form are prescribed and can reduce healing time. Over-the-counter medicine (Abreva) can also reduce healing time.
Oral hairy leukoplakia (OHL) is caused by the Epstein-Barr virusWhite patches that do not wipe away; sometimes very thick and "hair-like." Usually appear on the side of the tongue.OHL is not harmful and usually goes away without treatment. More severe cases can be treated with antiviral medication (e.g., acyclovir). Topical treatments are also available. Stopping smoking and not drinking alcohol can help.
Candidiasis (thrush) is a fungal (yeast) infectionWhite or yellowish patches inside the mouth, throat and on the tongue. If wiped away, there will be redness or bleeding underneath.Mild cases -- prescription antifungal lozenge or mouthwash.
More severe cases -- prescription antifungal pills.
Angular Cheilitis is caused by a fungal infection or malnutrition (too little vitamin B2, zinc, or iron)Cracks on the corners of the mouth.Antifungal cream applied directly to the site (if fungal); improved diet or vitamin and mineral supplements (If malnutrition).
Oral Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV)Small, white, gray, or pinkish rough bumps that look like cauliflower. They can appear inside the lips and on other parts of the mouth.Inside the mouth -- a health care provider can remove them surgically or use "cryosurgery" -- a way of freezing them off.
On the lips -- a prescription cream that will wear away the wart.
Warts can return after treatment.
Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) is a cancer associated with HIV and caused by a virus (human herpes virus 8)Red or purple lesions that can be raised or flat. KS usually occurs on the roof of the mouth but can be found anywhere in the mouth.Surgical removal, freezing, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums and supporting boneRed gums that bleed easily and bad breath.Regular dental visits and good oral hygiene both prevent and treat periodontal disease.
Xerostomia (dry mouth) can be caused by HIV, HIV drugs, or antidepressantsLack of saliva (spit); trouble chewing and swallowing; dry, sticky, or burning mouth; and cracked or chapped lips. If untreated, dry mouth can lead to tooth decay.
  • Artificial saliva
  • Sipping water or sugarless drinks
  • Chewing sugarless gum
  • Sucking sugarless hard candy
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Avoiding alcohol
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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
HIV and the Mouth
More on Oral Health and HIV/AIDS

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