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Dental Problems Go Unresolved in Many HIV Patients

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Press Release Date: April 6, 2001

Oral infections, mouth ulcers and other severe dental conditions associated with HIV infections go untreated more than twice as often as other health problems related to the disease, according to a new study supported by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The study, conducted by UCLA and RAND researchers, and detailed in the just published winter 2001 issue of the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, also found that uninsured persons with HIV disease are three times more likely to have untreated dental and medical needs than those with private insurance.

In addition, Medicaid enrollees who had state-sponsored dental coverage reported significantly more unmet dental needs than did privately insured patients.

The study, based on interviews of HIV patients in a national probability sample in 1996, estimates that 58,000 of the approximately 231,000 people in treatment for HIV disease that year had either unmet dental or medical needs, or both. Kevin C. Heslin of UCLA's AIDS Research Training Center, led the research, the first to examine both unmet dental and medical needs in HIV patients.

The investigators estimated that 14.3 percent of HIV patients as a whole had unmet dental needs alone in the six months prior to being interviewed, about 6.2 percent had unmet medical needs, and 5 percent had unmet dental and medical needs combined. By comparison, data from previous studies of the general population show that 9 percent had unmet dental needs, roughly 5.7 percent had unmet medical needs, and 2.5 percent had both unmet dental and medical needs.

In addition, patients younger than 50 years of age, the poor, the unemployed, and patients living in the South were generally more likely to report having unmet dental and medical needs, as were persons of mixed race and American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, Pacific Islanders and Asians.

The researchers categorized patients as having unmet dental and medical needs if they reported needing but not receiving these services in the previous six months. Although problems with access may play a role, the study did not examine why needs went unmet or seek to identify specific needs.

The study is part of the HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study (HCSUS), conducted by a consortium led by RAND Health under a cooperative agreement with AHRQ. Other HHS programs that support HCSUS include the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

For additional information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs, (301) 427-1364: Bob Isquith, (301) 427-1539 (


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