Massachusetts: Dental Care Providers Can Help in Early Detection of HIV

"The dental community can join [the fight against AIDS] by being the first line of defense in identifying possible signs of HIV. Dental teams have a unique opportunity to identify individuals who may be HIV-positive and unaware of their status.

"There are oral conditions which may indicate the existence of HIV and, if identified, can provide an educational moment for oral health practitioners to discuss, counsel, and offer referral to HIV testing.

"Early diagnosis and linkage to medical care can significantly improve health outcomes. Increasing the number of people who know their HIV status can also help reduce the number of new cases, as once people are aware of their infection, they are significantly less likely to put others at risk of transmission.

"The CDC has suggested that each year, a significant portion of the population will visit a dental office, but not a medical office. In some states, dental offices are conducting rapid HIV testing, and this may be an appropriate venue in a public health facility or a private practice in a region with higher reports of HIV infection.

"According to the CDC, one of every five people living with HIV in the United States is unaware of their HIV status. By building a system that better integrates services, health care practitioners across the board, including oral health care providers, can help to increase the number of people who can say: 'I know. I took the test.' So let's work together in Massachusetts to better connect our systems of care. By joining forces, we can improve the health and quality of life of all residents of the Commonwealth."

Goldrosen is director of the HIV/AIDS Services Division of the Infectious Disease Bureau of the Boston Public Health Commission; Bednarsh is the director of the division's HIV Dental Program.