Hesperian Health Guides

How to Examine the Mouth for Signs of HIV or AIDS

In this chapter:

IMPORTANT! You cannot tell from looking at a person if they have HIV.
Dental workers must always be careful to make sure they do not pass the virus from one person to another during dental care. Also, dental workers must protect themselves to make sure the virus does not pass to them from someone they are treating. So always use precautions against HIV infection with every person you see. The best precautions are to always wear clean latex gloves or plastic bags on the hands, a face mask, eye protection, and to use only clean, sterile instruments. See information on how to clean and sterilize instruments.

When you examine someone, always try to:

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Wear glasses or goggles. Make sure you can see through them clearly.
Wear a clean cloth or mask over your nose and mouth. Try to change the cloth several times a day. Before wearing a cloth again, wash it in clean soapy water, rinse, and hang it in the sun to dry.
Wear clean gloves or plastic bags on your hands.

If possible, dental workers should always be protected so they can prevent HIV from passing to themselves, the people they are treating, their families, and their sexual partners.

a woman speaking.
Before you examine someone, always explain carefully what you are going to do.

Always examine the lips, face, and inside the mouth of someone who wants advice about a dental problem. Look for any swelling, broken skin, sores, redness, infection, or unusual color changes. See information about the most common problems caused by HIV.

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Look carefully inside the cheeks and lips. Ask the person to lift up her tongue so you can look underneath it. Also, ask her to stick her tongue out. Wrap a small piece of clean cloth around the tip of the tongue and gently pull it forward so that you can see the sides of the tongue, the back part of the mouth and tongue, and as far down the throat as possible. For more information on how to examine the mouth and teeth, see Chapter 6.

It is important to ask about the person’s general health too. There may be other signs of HIV such as fevers, night sweats, feeling very tired all the time, weight loss, or diarrhea. Many people with HIV also become ill with tuberculosis or cancers. If the person has any of these problems, make sure they go to see a health worker or doctor who is experienced with HIV.

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Feel along the jaw, underneath the jaw bone, and on the upper neck to see if there are any lumps or pain.

Always tell the person what treatment you would like to give. After your examination, explain what you found and what can be done to help or prevent it from getting worse. Always ask the person for permission before you do any treatment, just as you should for any person you see.

a woman speaking.
No one else should know if someone has HIV, except for those the person wants to know. If you think it is important to tell others, always ask for permission first.
a man speaking.
If you know or think someone is infected with HIV, do not tell anyone else — even the person’s family.

Respect the privacy of a person with HIV as you would anyone who comes to you for dental care.

This page was updated:17 May 2024