HIV Mouth Sores: What They Look Like and How to Treat Them
HIV Mouth Sores
Mouth sores are just one of the consequences of infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). They are also one of the most common symptoms of this virus. In fact, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that at least one third of all HIV patients suffer from mouth complications. When you have HIV, these mouth sores are worse and more difficult to treat. Dentists are often the first detectors of the sores—yet another reason why those biannual dental appointments are important for your overall health.
Cold sores are a beauty nightmare that are difficult to mask. When you have HIV, these recurring sores can pop up on your lips as well as the inside of your mouth. Nicknamed “fever blisters,” these painful sores come in the form of red, raised bumps. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus, and are difficult to treat without medical intervention. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, to keep cold sores at bay. Don’t stop taking your prescription medications without a doctor’s orders—when cold sores come back, they tend to be worse and more numerous.
Also called aphthous ulcers, canker sores are extremely painful mouth lesions. Having HIV makes the sores even more painful, and they often don’t go away on their own. These sores are usually red, but are sometimes covered with a gray or yellow film. Location makes this mouth ailment more painful than cold sores because they develop on the insides of the cheeks and around the tongue. Corticosteroids are recommended to reduce inflammation and get rid of the sores quicker. These medications are available in rinses, but severe cases may require prescription tablet form.
Warts are small bumps that look like cauliflower. HIV can cause these bumps to sprout inside and around the mouth. They are often white, but warts can also be pink or gray. While not painful, warts in the mouth are bothersome. Depending on their location, HIV mouth warts can also be picked at and bleed. No oral medications can get rid of these warts. Instead, they are removed by surgery or prescription creams for the lips.
Thrush is a yeast infection formally known as candidiasis. It is caused by Candida, a fungus that causes red and white lumpy patches inside the mouth. When accidentally wiped, the patches can bleed and cause a burning sensation. Thrush can happen anywhere in and around the mouth, and may spread to the throat if left untreated. The normal course of treatment for mild thrush is antifungal mouthwash. HIV can cause resistance to these washes, so your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medications.
While not technically a type of mouth sore, gum disease is a common problem in the mouth in HIV patients. The problem is increased by dry mouth, another issue faced by many HIV patients. With dry mouth, there isn’t enough saliva to protect your teeth when you eat food. This leaves the teeth and gums vulnerable to plaque development. Drink water throughout the day to keep your mouth hydrated. If the problem persists, ask your doctor about saliva substitutes.
Complications with HIV Treatment
While mouth sores themselves are painful enough, they can also interfere with HIV treatment. Decreased immune function increases the spread of mouth sores. They tend to multiply in large numbers. Whether your mouth sores are painful or not, the problem can be severe enough to interfere with swallowing. In fact, some patients skip out on medications and even eating because of swallowing difficulties. If you’re having a difficult time taking HIV medications, talk to your doctor before skipping out on potentially life-saving treatment.
Untreated mouth sores can also cause infections. Canker and cold sores can pop when eating or brushing your teeth. Warts and thrush may accidentally be picked off. These open wounds leave you even more vulnerable to infections. Prompt treatment reduces the number of mouth sores, and subsequently the risk for infection. Dry mouth also increases the risk for infection because there is not enough saliva to naturally fight bacteria.
Preventive Oral Care
One of the best ways to treat and prevent the onset of HIV-related mouth sores is to see your dentist for regular checkups. A dentist can detect problems early on. Also, this can help prevent sores from worsening. Don’t be afraid to go to the dentist if you currently have mouth sores from HIV. Not only is it illegal for dentists to refuse to treat HIV patients, but it is also their job to help.
- HIV and the Mouth. (2013, May 10). International Association of Providers of AIDS Care. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.aidsinfonet.org/fact_sheets/view/653
- Mouth Problems and HIV. (2013, July 18). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/HIV/MouthProblemsHIV/
- Mouth Problems and HIV/AIDS. (2011, July 1). Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids/opportunistic-infections-and-other-conditions/mouth-problems-and-hiv-aids.cfm