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Oral Health Issues

Your Mouth, Your Health

When you are focused on your overall health and well-being—and especially when you are dealing with illness—it can be easy to overlook dental issues and oral health care.

But good dental hygiene is an important part of managing your HIV disease. If you wait until you are having problems with your teeth and gums to see a dentist, you can end up dealing with infection, pain, and tooth loss.

Poor oral health can even lead to malnutrition. If you can’t chew or swallow because your mouth hurts, you may not eat enough to keep yourself healthy. This also can affect how your body absorbs your HIV medication.

HIV and Oral Health

Your mouth may be the first part of your body to show signs of HIV infection. Oral opportunistic infections, such as candidiasis (thrush), are sometimes the first indicator that your immune system is not working properly—and oral health can be an important indicator of how HIV is affecting your body.

Anyone can have oral health problems, but HIV disease can make you more susceptible to:

  • Oral warts
  • Fever blisters
  • Oral hairy leukoplakia
  • Thrush
  • Canker sores
  • Cavities
  • Gum disease (periodontitis and gingivitis)

In addition, bacterial infections that begin in the mouth, such as tooth decay, can spread throughout your body if not treated and harm your heart and other organs. This is particularly dangerous for people living with HIV/AIDS who may have compromised immune systems.

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. Some HIV medications can cause dry mouth.

The best ways to avoid these problems include:

  • See your dentist regularly and ask about the best way to care for your mouth and teeth.
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. (After every meal is better!)
  • Floss every day. Flossing cleans parts of your teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Take all your HIV medications on schedule—this will protect your immune system and prevent oral opportunistic infections.
  • Let your doctor know if your HIV meds are causing you to have dry mouth. There are remedies.
  • Examine your mouth often and tell your primary care provider if you notice any unusual changes in the way your mouth looks or feels.
  • If you do not have a dentist, ask your regular clinic or provider to refer you to one.

For more information, see NIH’s Mouth Problems and HIV.

Fact Sheets & Print Materials

Last revised: 10/17/2012