Accessing affordable medical and dental care is a major challenge for people living with HIV and AIDS, many of whom are disabled and can not afford dental exams and treatment. For this underserved, vulnerable population, maintaining oral health is important not only for functional and aesthetic reasons, but also as part of overall HIV disease management.
To address that need, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently awarded the UCLA School of Dentistry a two-year grant of $2.36 million, which will enable UCLA to provide dental care for more than 1,000 people with HIV or AIDS each year.
The funding is being channeled through the federal government's Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which works with cities, states and community-based organizations to provide HIV-related services to individuals who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources. An estimated 50,550 people who have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS are living in Los Angeles County — and, counting undiagnosed cases, experts believe the number might actually exceed 60,000.
"With this funding, we are going to be able to provide quality dental care and oral health specialty services to thousands of HIV and AIDS patients," said Fariba Younai, a UCLA professor of clinical dentistry. "The patients who we will be treating are financially disadvantaged and have extremely limited access to care."
Patients will receive diagnostic services such as exams and radiographs; preparatory work such as cleanings and removal of tooth decay; and corrective care including extractions, fillings, crowns and other prostheses, and periodontal surgery. In addition, care providers will emphasize prevention and early detection of oral diseases by teaching patients about the importance of proper oral care at home and periodic visits to the dental office for examinations.
"The dental needs of HIV-positive and AIDS patients can be extensive and complex," said Dr. Paulo Camargo, the school's associate dean of clinical dental sciences. "This contract allows the delivery of comprehensive dental treatment to a large patient population that would otherwise not have access to this type of care."
The majority of the patients who will be treated will be referred by neighboring clinics that specialize in caring for people with HIV and AIDS. A patient care liaison will assist with communication between the referring clinics and the UCLA Dental Clinics to help position dental care as an integral component of the patients' overall health.
"Thanks to this contract from the county of Los Angeles, we will be able to provide needed and valuable services and to work with other health care providers to improve quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS," said Dr. No-Hee Park, the school's dean. "This partnership helps us fulfill our mission of improving the oral and systemic health of people throughout our community."