HIV-Positive Americans Do Not Receive Sufficient Dental Care
Government-operated health care agencies that do not provide dental coverage are failing to meet the needs of people living with HIV, according to a recent study in the Winter 2001 issue of the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, Reuters Health reports. Researchers conducted a "nationally representative study" of 2,864 U.S. patients with HIV who were interviewed in 1996 about the dental and medical services they had received in the previous six months. According to the study, "unmet dental needs (based on self-reported data) were more than twice as prevalent as unmet medical needs (32,900 versus 14,300), and 11,600 people were estimated to have both types of unmet needs. ... Patients younger than age 50, those with low income, the unemployed, and those living in the South were generally more likely to report unmet needs for both dental and medical care." The researchers estimated that 58,000 HIV-positive people in the United States did not receive dental and/or medical treatment in 1996. Study author Kevin Heslin of the University of California-Los Angeles told Reuters Health, "Regular oral health exams by a dentist for people with HIV are important because people with compromised immune systems will generally have the first symptoms show up in their mouth," adding that government-run agencies that do not provide dental coverage do so to "keep costs down." Heslin and colleagues said in the study that "more than 90% of HIV patients will have at least one oral manifestation during the course of the disease. Oral health problems associated with HIV are often more complicated and difficult to treat than those in the general population, and require the attention of both medical and dental personnel." Untreated periodontal disease, for example, can lead to life-threatening infections in people with weakened immune systems (Reuters Health, 4/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.