Programming Connection

HIV Screening in Dental Clinics 

Does HIV Look Like Me? International Society, Vancouver STOP Project
Vancouver, British Columbia


“We care about more than just your oral health.”

In the 1980s, dentists were often the first to signal to patients that they should consult their doctors about getting tested for HIV or AIDS, based on oral manifestations of the disease like thrush and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Today, three dentists in Vancouver, together with their staff, are reinvigorating dentists’ role in HIV care by offering point-of-care HIV screening (rapid testing) to their patients. As part of the Seek and Treat for Optional Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP) Project, the Vancouver STOP Project partnered with Does HIV Look Like Me? International to train and support three dental clinics to initiate the routine offer of HIV screening to patients in their practices.

Dentists and clinic staff use point-of-care rapid tests to screen patients for HIV antibodies. Negative results are considered conclusive, though patients are counselled about the window period for HIV infection and encouraged to test again in three months if they experience ongoing risk. People who test preliminary positive are connected with the STOP Outreach Team, an interdisciplinary clinical team responsible for improving engagement and linkage for people with the most complex barriers to care, and with nearby medical clinics for immediate support.

To promote the initiative among patients, Does HIV Look Like Me? International developed a campaign using the tagline, We care about more than just your oral health. Posters and brochures in the waiting room and the operatories encouraged patients to ask about screening and to update their knowledge about HIV. At Mid-Main, the entire staff asked to be screened for HIV. Dr. Mario Brondani, one of Mid-Main’s dentists says that “this might have helped to spread the word about screening to the incoming patients and demystify what screening actually is.”

Patients have been overwhelmingly supportive of the initiative. “People were pretty positive about it. People were pretty happy,” said Dr. Sean Sikorski, the PHS Community Services Society Clinic’s dentist. “They were surprised, but they were kind of happy because a lot of people don’t have a regular physician or they aren’t comfortable plugging into that infrastructure.”

According to Brandy Svendson, Does HIV Look Like Me? International’s executive director, the introduction of HIV screening may be most appropriate for dentists with a large clientele from communities with a higher prevalence of HIV such as the gay community.