HIV/AIDS and Oral Health
People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), are at special risk for oral health problems. Many of these problems arise because the person’s immune system is weakened and less able to fight off infection.
Some of the most common oral problems for people with HIV/AIDS include oral warts, fever blisters, hairy leukoplakia, oral candidiasis (thrush), and aphthous ulcers, often called canker sores. People with HIV/AIDS may also experience dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay and can make chewing, eating, swallowing, and even talking difficult.
Many of the common oral health problems associated with HIV can often be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications. There are also self-care steps you can take to help ease dry mouth.
Mouth Problems and HIV are common
Oral problems are very common in people with HIV. More than a third of people living with HIV have oral conditions that arise because of their weakened immune system. And even though combination antiretroviral therapy has made some oral problems less common, others are occurring more often with this type of treatment.
Mouth Problems and HIV can be painful, annoying, and lead to other problems
You may be told that oral problems are minor compared to other things you have to deal with. But you know that they can cause discomfort and embarrassment and really affect how you feel about yourself. Oral problems can also lead to trouble with eating. If mouth pain or tenderness makes it difficult to chew and swallow, or if you can’t taste food as well as you used to, you may not eat enough. And, your doctor may tell you to eat more than normal so your body has enough energy to deal with HIV.
Mouth Problems and HIV can be treated
The most common oral problems linked with HIV can be treated. So talk with your doctor or dentist about what treatment might work for you.
Remember, with the right treatment, your mouth can feel better. And that’s an important step toward living well, not just longer, with HIV.
If you have dry mouth
Dry mouth happens when you do not have enough saliva, or spit, to keep your mouth wet. Saliva helps you chew and digest food, protects teeth from decay, and prevents infections by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth. Without enough saliva you could develop tooth decay or other infections and might have trouble chewing and swallowing. Your mouth might also feel sticky, dry and have a burning feeling. And you may have cracked, chapped lips.
To help with a dry mouth, try these things:
- Sip water or sugarless drinks often
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy
- Avoid tobacco
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid salty foods
- Use a humidifier at night
Talk to your doctor or dentist about prescribing artificial saliva, which may help keep your mouth moist.