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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Dentists shun HIV patients

Monday, 27 January, 2003, 12:18 GMT

Equipment should be sterilised for all patients

Many dentists are refusing to treat people with HIV even though there is no risk of transmitting the disease if safety procedures are correctly followed.

Experts have warned that continuing discrimination may force people with HIV to keep their condition hidden - which could cause problems if dentists fail to take adequate care.

Research conducted by BBC News Online found seven out of 30 dentists contacted refused to commit to treating a person with HIV.

We support the right of HIV positive patients to seek dental treatment with a family dentist

British Dental Association

One HIV positive man who found he was turned away from a private dental practice in west London told of his sense of "disbelief at being treated in this way by a health professional".

"I honestly thought that dentists in the country would be better informed. Living with HIV you fear prejudice from other people, but at least you hope for better from health professionals.

"When it was made clear that I wasn't welcome it brought home again some of the unique and awful qualities that are a part of living with this virus.

"The ignorance, the prejudice, the misunderstandings that aren't associated with any other illness in quite the same way."


Richard Jackson, from Bristol, also had problems when he told his dentist about his HIV diagnosis.

The dentist said that he was prepared to offer treatment, but insisted that the duty nurse be informed of Mr Jackson's HIV status whenever he required an appointment.

What to do if refused treatment

Contact your local HIV clinic and ask them to recommend a dentist

Contact the General Dental Council to complain

Inform the Terrence Higgins Trust helpline on 0845 1221200

Fearing problems with confidentiality, Mr Jackson said he was not happy about this and was told in that case the practice could only offer him treatment in an emergency.

When he went back for emergency treatment some time later, he was told the practice could not find his notes.

Although he did receive treatment, the dentist told him he would have to speak to the senior partner about further care, and then never contacted him again.

Mr Jackson told BBC News Online: "I am very angry. I would have expected health professionals to be a little bit better informed about the risks involved.

"If they did not want to treat me then at least they should have been honest, rather than making excuses."

Legal action

Ronan Gallagher, from London, took legal action after he was refused treatment.

I would have expected health professionals to be a little bit better informed about the risks involved


Richard Jackson

Following his diagnosis with HIV, his regular dentist continued to treat him, but on one occasion was away on holiday.

"They asked if I minded seeing somebody else. I laid down in the chair, and thought that I had better tell the new dentist about my condition.

"It was almost as if I had punched him in the face. He turned around picked up my notes and said 'we don't treat people like you, there are places for people like you to go. If we were to treat you we would have to close the surgery for an hour afterwards to disinfect it'."

With that the dentist scrawled HIV over the case notes, and promptly banned the surgery's dental hygienist from treating Mr Gallagher too - even though she had treated him dozens of times before.

Widespread problem

A survey conducted by the HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) found 40% of people with HIV who were questioned said they had experienced discrimination at the hands of a healthcare professional.

The problem was particularly acute with dentists because people tended only to seek treatment when they needed it, and had not built up an ongoing personal relationship in the same way that they might do with a doctor.

Lisa Power, THT head of policy and campaigns, said: "Dentists should treat all patients with equal care and safety, because many people are unaware that they have a transmissible condition.

"The Disability Discrimination Act states that it is illegal to discriminate against people who are ill through HIV, either in the workplace or in the delivery of services."

"There are health and safety guidelines in existence for dentists which, if followed, remove any risk of accidental transmission not only of HIV but also Hepatitis C and other blood-borne conditions.

"Following these guidelines should mean that no dental surgery needs to refuse treatment or otherwise discriminate against people with HIV."

Keep it hidden

Ms Power said continuing discrimination against people with HIV meant that they were less likely to reveal details of their condition.

"This could lead to real problems with dentists not taking adequate care," she said.

Many people with HIV have previously been treated at specialised dental centres.

However, Ms Power said most of these clinics were no longer in operation due to lack of funding.

A spokesman for the British Dental Association said: "The BDA supports the right of HIV positive patients to seek dental treatment with a family dentist.

"There is no reason why they should be referred to a specialist centre, unless the family dentist feels that the patient's condition requires specialist treatment.

"Where a dentist refuses to treat a patient on the grounds of their HIV status, they run the risk of a claim under disability discrimination legislation and may be found guilty of professional misconduct by the General Dental Council."