Dentist reviews HIV guidance – and health trust is giving training too

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I’ve got some dental work that really needs finishing. It’s been on the go since 2006 – really since St Luke’s Day that year (18 October). Quite simply, I’ve not really got round to getting it all sorted, you know how it is, life moves on, various things happen and you never quite get round to everything that you ought to.

Well last week I contacted my dentist  in Ballymena again and asked for appointments to get this work finished. Yesterday I got an email saying that two appointments had been made for two Tuesdays one week apart at around 5pm.

I wondered at this timing, it seemed to be the last appointment of the day. I had heard from other positive friends that those who had told their dentist about being HIV-positive had ended up with appointments at the end of the day. So, wondering about this I sent a quick email back asking why I had been given these times.

When I had last been at the dentist, I had disclosed my status. I felt that it was only right that my dentist knew. I received a very positive reply which was along the lines of ‘we have to treat everyone as though they could be HIV-positive, so knowing that you are HIV-positive will not stop us treating you’.

Other people living with HIV have not been quite so lucky. Back in 2003, the BBC reported that Ronan Gallagher, from London, when he told a dentist felt like

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’.

This morning, my dentist telephoned me and told me that the timings were because of practice operating procedure to take extra care of me because of my status. I was told that this was following guidelines from the health board. I questioned this and said that I would be writing formally to seek written reason for this. I think that a seed of doubt was sown because later in the day I got another phone call telling me that the dentist had checked in a spare 10 minutes and found that what he had been doing was now wrong.

As the Terrence Higgins Trust puts it

Dentists often think that they need to take extra care when they have a patient with HIV. They may be more careful about cleaning and sterilising equipment, wanting to prevent HIV being passed on. But standard infection control procedures are designed to prevent transmissions.

According to the Department of Health and the British Dental Association:

  • The same procedures should be used for all patients
  • It’s unethical as well as unlawful to refuse dental care to people with HIV
  • It’s also illogical – lots of people have HIV without knowing it, so dentists treat people who have HIV anyway, and need to take the right precautions all the time.

Dentists often say that people with HIV have to take the last appointment of the day, to allow for extra sterilisation. So far, nobody has taken a dentist to court for this…

although for the record, Tony Bell did take a case in Northern Ireland against Craigavon Hospital which is reported here.

But back to my dentist. He had phoned me to tell me that he had found out that his original course of action had been wrong – and that dentists should treat HIV-positive patients who have not had an AIDS diagnosis in the same way as the rest of the population. Anyone who has been diagnosed with AIDS should seek specialist dental treatment.

I will be writing to my dentist seeking the precise wording and source for these guidelines, but in the meantime, it is heartening that one dentist at least has taken the time to learn how to treat those of us who have had the care to tell him about our status. For now, he has promised to make sure that everyone in the practice is aware of the new guidelines.

This afternoon, I was in The HIV Support Centre in Belfast and recounted this story to the Community Support Officer there, he told me it was very timely that this had happened as the Belfast HSC Trust is organising some training on HIV for dentists. It seems that my story might be told there…

2 thoughts on “Dentist reviews HIV guidance – and health trust is giving training too

  1. Dear Michael,

    I am currently studying a degree in health and social care, where part of my next essay is built around advocacy.

    Your experience with the dentist was truly refelctive of how self-advocacy is such a positive within society today. Your efforts and confidence to raise questions over basic practice, demonstrated how advocacy can effectively support positive change. In turn, your efforts, will hopefully lead others, or groups to individually, or collectively embrace their human rights, challenge power/control and move forward.

    I feel the work you do is both empowering, but also enabling!

    Inspiring!

    Regards,
    Paul

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