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Oral health care is an important part of your health care. Oral health problems put more strain on your immune system. Some oral health problems are a sign that your immune system is changing and may mean that you should see your doctor. To ensure proper maintenance of teeth and gums your dentist needs to know your health status. He or she can work with your doctor or clinic to make sure you get the treatment you need.

Oral health problems may raise your risk of heart disease, lung disease, and stroke. In pregnant women, oral health problems may raise the risk of having a low-weight, premature baby. Two types of oral health problems are:

  • Problems with your teeth and gums
  • Infections and sores inside your mouth

Cavities - A cavity is a soft spot or small hole in your tooth. Cavities are caused by plaque, a sticky white film on your teeth that is made up of bacteria (germs) and tiny bits of food left in your mouth. These bacteria make acid that eat away at your teeth. Cleaning your teeth regularly helps prevent cavities by getting rid of plaque. At first, a cavity is small and does not hurt. If it is not treated with a filling, it can get deeper, become painful, and a root canal may be needed to fix the tooth. If a cavity is not treated, it can lead to dangerous mouth infections and loss of the tooth.

Almost everyone has tooth and gum problems at some time in their lives. The most common are cavities and gum disease.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is an infection of your gums and the bone that holds your teeth in your mouth. Signs of gum disease are:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Gums that bleed when you brush or floss your teeth
  • Gums that are pulling away from your teeth
  • Loose teeth

If gum disease is not treated, your teeth—even healthy ones—may shift or get so loose that they need to be
removed. Early treatment can help you keep your teeth. People with HIV sometimes have gum disease that gets worse very quickly. All kinds of gum disease are easier to treat when they first begin. That’s why it is so important to see your dentist regularly.

You can prevent cavities and gum disease

Cavities and gum disease can happen to anyone. The good news is that you can prevent these problems by following these easy steps:

1. See your dentist every 6 months for a checkup, even if your teeth feel fine. Your dentist can find and fix cavities before they cause you pain. Your dentist can also find and treat early signs of gum disease before it becomes serious. Early treatment means less pain! Your dentist also checks for mouth infections, sores, and cancer, so you should go even if you have no teeth.
2. Brush your teeth after every meal or at least two times a day. Choose a toothpaste with fluoride and use a softbristle toothbrush. Change your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles look frayed or worn.
3. Floss every day. Flossing cleans parts of your teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach. If you have trouble using floss, ask your dentist to show you ways to clean between your teeth.
4. Use a mouth rinse every day. Ask your dentist if there is a specific mouth rinse you should use.
5. Use artificial saliva if you have a dry mouth. Dry mouth is a side effect of many HIV medications. Saliva helps keep your teeth clean, so you are more likely to get cavities if you have a dry mouth. An artificial saliva will make your mouth more comfortable and will help prevent oral health problems caused by dry mouth. You can buy this at your local pharmacy without a prescription, or ask your dentist for a recommendation.
6. Mouth sores & infections. People with HIV are more likely to have some kinds of sores and infections inside their mouths, including on the tongue and lips. Some of these infections are rare and can only be found by your dentist. Others are more common and may have symptoms you can see or feel. The most common kinds of sores and infections that affect people with HIV are:

  • Thrush (Candidiasis)
  • Oral Hairy Leukoplakia
  • Mouth Ulcers (Canker sores, cold sores, or fever blisters)

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This health center is a Health Center Program grantee under 42 U.S.C. 254b, and a deemed Public Health Service employee under 42 U.S.C. 233(g)-(n).

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This site contains HIV Prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences.

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