HIV Testing During Dental Visits Could Become Effective New Way to Stop Virus’s Spread


The next big step in combating the spread of HIV could come from your dentist’s office. Testing and knowing one’s HIV status are crucial components to curtailing HIV, but oftentimes there exists a significant social stigma that comes with requesting a test from one’s primary physician. Dentists offices, according to University of Chicago Center for Health Administration Studies Faculty Chair Dr. Harold Pollack, provide the perfect setting for making HIV testing de rigueur. Unlike clinics geared towards sexual health, which can be few and far between depending on one’s community, dentists’ offices are widespread and more easily accessible.

In the same way that pharmacies offer tests for cholesterol, blood pressure, and vision, dentists offices could branch out their services offered. A visit to the dentist could begin with a quick swab one’s cheek and end with HIV test results without any blood work necessary.

“We don’t need anything from our primary-care physicians,” Pollack explained to Ozy. “We want nice-looking white teeth with no cavities.”

Generally speaking people visit the dentist more frequently than they do their doctors, according to Pollack’s research. He estimates that nearly 70% of high-risk individuals schedule annual dental appointments, whereas most people only go to the doctor when they are certain that something is wrong.

Dentists in Canada, Mexico, and South Korea have begun administering HIV screenings as a part of a regular checkup. In the U.S., the practice is not nearly as common, and not without significant hurdles. For all of their scarcity, HIV clinics are more than merely a place that will administer health screenings and medication. Clinic staff are trained to handle and  share kinds information that dentists don’t have to deal with very often. But Pollack is certain that HIV testing deserves to a feature of modern dentistry.

“In the U.S., we’ve done a bad job of carving oral health out, having separate insurance plans.” He insisted. “We need to have a mentality that really grasps that oral health is part of health.”


  1. TheOtherOne says

    @Rick, if I understand correctly, in the USA the ADA prohibits a dentist from refusing to treat an HIV+ patient. Universal precautions are supposed to be employed whether or not a patient’s HIV status is known. Of course in the real world, legal prohibitions don’t always inhibit discrimination, ignorance, or fear.

  2. Randy says

    Rick: “would not most dentists refuse to treat him rather than risk contact ”

    If this is actually a dentist’s concern, then they aren’t doing things right and are putting themselves and all patients at risk.

  3. says

    “If a patient tested positive, would not most dentists refuse to treat him rather than risk contact with his blood?”

    Nope, cause they’re trained to take precautions and refusal of treatment based on HIV status is illegal. So, unless they want to be liable for a big fine …

  4. John says

    I live in Canada and my dentist has never given me an HIV screening as a part of a regular checkup. Is Towleroad saying that I was tested for HIV without my consent?

  5. L says

    Putting oral health back into medical rather than being carved out to dental would be a nice start for this sort of thing.

    I’d be sort of curious to see Orly Taitz’s reaction to this as a currently licensed dentist in California.

  6. Dennis says

    The ONLY WAY this will work is if dentists are willing and able to provide anonymous HIV screening at their office WITHOUT dental procedures. This way folks could go to the dentist instead of the local co. health clinic which would be more conspicuous. I’m not sure many dentists are hurting for business enough to want to pad their schedule with patients that are paying pocket change. And HIV testing appointments are notorious for being no-shows.

    Most people dread the dentist. What could be more fun than being told that the oral test showed positive for HIV before relaxing for a nice root canal? And I see this opening an avenue for the gov and/or dentistry trade making HIV testing mandatory for whatever pretense. Dentists would lose business.

    And if HIV testing was widely done at dentistries, this could cause regular health clinics to scale back, for lack of the usual traffic. And then what? Could a dentist provide counseling, and write out a prescription for meds, or would a patient have to go to a regular doctor afterwards anyway?

  7. B says

    I don’t want my dentist performing medical tests that have nothing to do with the care and treatment of my teeth. While dentists are highly trained professionals, I don’t see them as HIV experts or in any position to advise me on my general medical health. Nowhere in this article did they say that this would be done with patient consent. This smacks of a routine test done without patient’s knowledge and that is just wrong! IMHO Dr. Pollack is a quack who needs his head examined!

  8. Chris says

    The medical field should take precautions as though everyone were HIV+. The practice of somehow being more cautious with some than others creates a false sense of security as well as sets the stage for… less than average treatment for those that are known positive.

  9. Hue-Man says

    My dentist is already doing an oral cancer check at every appointment, so is already carrying out “medical procedures”. He’s got his mask, gloves, glasses and gown on so would have no problem doing a finger prick for a blood sample, testing, and explaining results.

    The obvious downside is that people would have another reason to avoid seeing their dentist – which is already a problem – even though untreated dental problems can lead to serious non-dental medical diseases.

  10. Mike in the Tundra says

    @ Rick – if my dentist were to stop treating HIV+ patients, she would lose a lot of patients. About 90% of her patients are gay. It’s understood that she knows how to protect herself, her staff, and her patients. Besides all of that, she’s a great dentist.

  11. jerza says

    This is an idiotic idea. Dentists aren’t trained to give HIV tests, advise patients who test positive or discuss sexual health issues in general.

    Why not have barbers/hair stylists do it? We see them more often, and once upon a time they handled medical procedures. (Im being sarcastic.)

    If you can’t be adult enough to talk to your doctor about an HIV test, that’s on you. Its not the world’s job to figure out how to make you take one.

  12. Mikey says

    I had to give my dentist a 20 minute lesson on HIV, HIV meds, and risk facotrs of contagion regarding HIV+ patients on anti-retroviral therapy vs. those not on therapy.

    Amazingly, my dentist (a young woman) knew next to nothing about any of this. Surprisingly, she also knew very little about the risks associated with hepatitis-infected or carrier patients.

    If your dentist even touches your front teeth with a fingertip without first putting on a glove, then I suggest changing dentists.
    The risk isn’t to them! it’s to YOU.

  13. petey says

    I don’t agree with this. HIV-pos people are discriminated against. People make a link between male homosexuality and HIV, and this leads to the unfair discrimination against gay men who wish to donate blood.

    HIV is very difficult to catch, too. It’s not like Ebola or the flu. Just say “no” to unnecessary HIV testing.

  14. Pandion says

    16% of gay men are HIV+ (and only about half know). Since not all gays have anal sex, and anal sex is the only way you can get HIV, HIV prevalence is likely even higher than 16% in gay men who do have anal sex (possibly close to 30%). That’s how “very difficult to catch” it is.

  15. KevinSF says

    If there is a way for dentists to make money off this scheme I’m sure the ADA will support it. Dental schools spend almost as much time instructing future dentists on money grubbing from patients as they do on many of the more professional aspects of dentistry. Ever notice it always takes at least two appointments to complete any procedure? They never do anything in one visit when they can charge for two visits. Their markup is about 5000% percent and unlike Doctors they can and do refuse emergency treatment unless you pay upfront.

  16. petey says


    Nonsense. For one thing, nobody knows how many gay men there are in the world. Your quoted percentage is not an accurate figure.

    Anal sex is not the cause of AIDS. It’s a conduit, not a cause. There is more anal sex between men and women than there
    is between men and men.

  17. C says

    Ronald Reagan gave a speech about mandatory HIV testing during the ’80s. Elizabeth Taylor, who was also on the podium, reacted and said, “Of course, AmFar does not support this.” People have a right to privacy and just because treatment options are much better now, making HIV tests “de rigueur” is still wrong.

  18. Liam SW says

    The Gay community has been fighting mandatory testing for years. and for good reason: public misunderstandings about HIV, HIV transmission, invasion of privacy, and prejudicial treatment of those who are HIV+.

Leave A Reply