Regular dental visits may help maintain better oral health in people with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), suggests a study conducted by Delta Dental Plan of Minnesota researchers and published as the cover story in the October issue of the
Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).
The study, which was based on an analysis of submitted dental
claims, showed that when financial barriers were eliminated, HIV-positive patients who visited the dentist for an examination and teeth cleaning on average at least once every 10 months had a far less invasive and less complex mix of dental services performed than those who visited the dentist for an examination
and teeth cleaning less frequently. For instance, the dental claims data showed that HIV-positive patients who visited the dentist less frequently had more than four times as many tooth extractions as those who visited the dentist on a more frequent basis.
"While the study was based on a comparison of dental services and not on clinical observation of each patient's oral health, the significant differences in the types and complexity of services received leads us to believe there was a marked difference in the oral health result for HIV- positive patients who visited the dentist frequently versus those who did not," said Dr. Richard Hastreiter (DDS, MPH), co-author of the study and vice president of the Oral Health Care Management Center at Delta Dental Plan of
Minnesota. "These findings reinforce the importance of educating and encouraging people with HIV to integrate regular oral health care into the ongoing maintenance of their overall health and well-being."
The study, which was also authored by Dr. Peilei Jiang (PhD, MS,
MS), Research Manager of the Oral Health Management Center at Delta Dental Plan of Minnesota, analyzed dental service utilization patterns of 495 HIV-positive individuals enrolled in the Minnesota Access to Care Program, between 1995- 2000. The Minnesota Access to Care Program is a subsidized public health care
program that reimburses community dentists for oral health care services provided to economically challenged HIV patients. The program is funded by Title II of the Ryan White Care Act and is jointly administrated by Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Human Services and Delta Dental
Plan of Minnesota. The study methodology mandated the confidentiality of all patient records and data. In addition, data analysis was performed and reported only in the aggregate to protect patient privacy.
In conducting the study, the researchers also found that patients who visited the dentist less frequently had higher costs per visit as a result of more complex dental procedures. Their average overall cost per patient over the five-year study period was also higher, although not significantly higher than for study participants who visited the dentist more frequently.
"As indicated by differences in the mix of dental care services
provided to these two groups, continuity of primary oral health care for patients who visited the dentist more frequently has led to a better oral health result at no significant increase in cost," said Dr. Hastreiter. "The study suggests that patients who proactively visited the dentist received needed diagnostic,
preventive and treatment services at the right time. Unchecked dental problems can have a serious impact on oral health and quality of life."
More than 4,300 Minnesotans are reported to be infected with
HIV/AIDS, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's most recent, 2001 survey data (2001 Minnesota AIDS/HIV Surveillance System). The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 800,000 to 900,000 people
currently living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.