Usually amongst HIV positive people, the first common kind of oral lesions that is noticeable, is caused by an oral infection called Oral Candiasis, which is called Thrush. However, even people who are HIV negative can present with some of these lesions if they are not fit and healthy or if they are immuno-compromised for any other reason.
Professor Sudeshni Naidoo, a Dental Researcher with a special interest in HIV, based at the University of the Western Cape, says everyone needs to examine their gums and teeth regularly and be aware of any abnormalities.
‘It presents as white lesions anywhere in the mouth. It’s sort of a creamy white patch you can get on the tongue, on the palate, on the lips’,said Naidoo.
Studies show that during World War I, soldiers were immuno-compromised due to shortage of nutritious food and had the gum disease called Trench Mouth. But now, with HIV as a huge threat to the immune system, the gum disease has re-emerged, with a new name – Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis ‘ otherwise known as the Nug or Trench Mouth.
Dentists say they can tell at what stage of HIV infection a patient is, with Trench Mouth or the Nug being possibly the earliest oral indicator.
Kaposi’s Sarcoma is usually seen as a possible indicator of full blown AIDS.
Kaposi’s is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the tissues under the skin or mucous membranes that line the mouth and the nose. It may lead to severe bleeding of the gums and excruciating pain.
‘Kaposi’s Sarcoma is cancer! Kaposi’s Sarcoma is there at about 10 years. We see it in the mouth‘, said Dr Terri Cohen, a Dentist practising in Soweto.
HIV patients are strongly advised to examine themselves regularly and seek help when necessary even if they don’t feel any pain.