Southern Indiana is in the midst of an HIV outbreak, with 188 newly diagnosed cases of the infection. While the CDC works with local officials to stop the spread of the infection, it's important that those already infected understand the new health risks their condition entails. One of those health risks is dental decay; if you've recently received a positive HIV diagnosis, read on to learn about how HIV affects your oral health.
HIV-Associated Salivary Gland Disease
HIV-positive individuals often develop a condition known as HIV-associated salivary gland disease. The symptoms of HIV-associated salivary gland disease include swelling of the salivary glands, lesions inside the mouth, dry eyes, and dry mouth. Saliva plays an important role in preventing tooth decay by helping to wash away the sugars and acids left on your teeth by food. If your mouth isn't producing an ample amount of saliva, these sugars and acids can remain stuck in place, eroding your tooth enamel and causing tooth decay and dental carries.
If you are HIV-positive and you experience the above symptoms, have your doctor test for you HIV-associated salivary gland disease. If your test comes back positive, here are some things you can do to protect your teeth by increasing saliva production:
- Chew sugarless gum
- If you smoke, quit
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid alcohol-containing mouthwashes
The onset of an HIV infection can look a lot like the flu. In the early stages of the infection, most people experience vomiting, as well as fever and diarrhea. Furthermore, many medications used to control HIV also cause vomiting.
If you're vomiting frequently, you're consistently exposing your teeth to damaging gastric acid. This gastric acid can and will wear away at your teeth's enamel in as little as 6 months' time. To protect your teeth from being damaged, never brush them immediately after vomiting. Doing so can spread gastric acid around your mouth and increase your likelihood of developing tooth decay. Instead of brushing right away, rinse your mouth out with a glass of water will a small amount of baking soda added to it. The baking soda will help neutralize the acid in your mouth.
Brush your teeth only after vomiting has ceased for at least an hour, and be sure to floss while you're at it. Talk with your doctor about how you can curb HIV-related nausea.
While periodontitis is not exclusive to HIV-infected people, there is evidence that people with low CD4 cell counts may have an increased risk of developing a certain type of periodontitis known as necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis (NUP). CD4 cells are the white blood cells that help fight infection -- the same cells that HIV-infected people can become deficient in.
NUP is characterized by a severe infection of the gums and bones surrounding the teeth. It can cause intense pain, spontaneous bleeding of the gums, and necrosis of the gums and deterioration of the jaw bone. Once NUP is present, the condition of the mouth can rapidly worsen. In as little as 12 weeks, a sufferer can lose 90 percent of the bone matter in affected regions of their mouth.
NUP sufferers require antibiotics immediately to help stave off progression the infection. It may also be necessary to have necrotic tissue surgically removed in order to prevent the infection from spreading.
With Indiana experiencing an HIV outbreak, it's important for those who are newly-infected with the virus to understand the link between HIV and dental health. If you've recently been diagnosed with HIV, schedule an appointment with a dentist for a checkup, and visit them regularly so they can monitor the condition of your dental health and treat any problems you may encounter early-on in their development.