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New Study: 1 In 20 L.A. Dentists Refuse to Treat HIV+ Patients

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Dec 1, 2011
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According to a new study by the Williams Institute, it was revealed that 5 percent of dental offices in Los Angeles County have an unlawful policy that refuses to treat people who have HIV.

Another 5 percent of dentists said that they would treat people living with HIV differently than other patients in ways that could violate state and federal anti-discrimination legislations.

The study contacted 612 dentists’ offices in 2007 and 2008 and found that levels of HIV discrimination are lower in dental care than other health care services in L.A. Researchers called the offices posing as potential new patients who were HIV-positive, to test the degrees of discrimination. The study also found that discrimination was higher among older dentists and dentists who went to dental school outside of the United States.

"Thirty years into the epidemic, HIV-positive patients continue to face discrimination when accessing dental care," study co-author Brad Sears, Roberta A. Conroy Scholar of Law and Executive Director of the Williams Institute said in a statement. "While it is definitely encouraging that 90% of dentists in Los Angeles County do treat HIV-positive patients, it is likely that the rate of discrimination is higher in other parts of the country."

A number of factors influenced the levels of discrimination, such as the patient’s type of dental insurance, the physical location of the dentist’s office, and when and where the dentist graduated from dental school.

Individuals who told dentists that they had Denti-Cal insurance experienced discrimination levels twice as high as people who had private insurance. Denti-Cal is a public benefit for patients with a low-income but was largely discontinued by California in 2009.

"Dentists can treat HIV-positive patients safely and effectively," says study co-author Fariba S. Younai, Professor of Clinical Sciences & Vice Chair, Division of Oral Biology and Medicine, UCLA School of Dentistry. "The same standard infection control precautions should be used with all patients and every patient should be treated as if they had a blood borne disease. Thus, every dental office should be equipped to treat HIV-positive patients."

In addition, levels of discrimination were higher in areas of Los Angeles County with higher rates of HIV-infection, and with individuals who earned a low-income. Discrimination rates were higher in the San Gabriel Valley and South Public Health Service Planning Areas when compared to other regions in L.A.

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