Published April 25, 2016
For Western New York dental patients, a routine teeth cleaning can now come with a HIV screening.
UB Dental, clinics operated by the School of Dental Medicine, will offer a free oral HIV screening to patients between the ages of 13 and 64.
With one in eight people unaware of their HIV status, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the program creates more opportunities for patients to learn if they’re infected.
The screenings will be offered through March 2017 with the goal of performing 4,000 tests.
UB Dental also will partner with Baker Victory Services, Western New York Dental Group and Seneca Nation Health System to provide screenings to the broader Buffalo community.
“Given that so many individuals visit the dentist in a given year — figures as high as 70 percent — shouldn’t we provide the opportunity for a patient to access the test?” says Stephen Abel, associate dean for student, community and professional initiatives in the dental school.
“We have to open as many portals of entry as possible into the health care system and allow dentists to do more medical screenings. This is going to test the hypothesis that dental clinics are an untapped venue.”
The tests will be administered using an oral swab to gather oral fluids from patients’ mouths. Results will be delivered within 20 minutes; however, a blood test — offered through a partnership with Erie County Medical Center — is needed to confirm any positive result.
The program is supported by a grant from the New York State Department of Health and is part of Ending the Epidemic (ETE), an initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections from 3,000 to 750 per year by 2020.
According to ETE, there are as many as 22,000 people living with HIV in New York who are not aware of their status.
“All people should know their status,” says Abel, also the first dentist to be appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS under the Clinton administration.
“Early detection is critical. The earlier that we can get a patient into care, the more successful and faster we can get that patient back to good health and prevent further transmission.”
The program, led by Abel and Michael Hatton, clinical associate professor in the UB Department of Oral Diagnostic Sciences, also will make students and residents working in the UB Dental clinics aware of the role they play in the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
“We’re training the students to think beyond taking care of teeth,” says Abel. “It advances our students’ training to be members of the primary care team and teaches them to look at whole body health and wellness, not just dental disease.”