New HIV Testing Location? The Dentist’s Office

Natalie Williams Breast Care Foundation

The next time you visit your dentist, you may want to request a rapid oral HIV test. If your dentist is Catrise Austin, D.D.S., you won’t even have to ask because her office offers the test to each of their patients at the beginning of their biannual hygiene appointments.

Since the results of the swab take only 20 minutes, the patients leave with their results the same day. A Crest brand ambassador whose clients include Toni Braxton, Wendy Williams and Common, Dr. Austin has the first private dental practice in the nation to get certified and trained to offer the OraQuick ADVANCE® Rapid HIV test.

Heart & Soul: How common is it to find the HIV infection in an oral cavity?
Dr. Austin: From what I know, at least 90 percent of people living with HIV will develop symptoms like yeast in the mouth, canker sores and a thin red band around the gum line. The oral cavity is one of the first places where signs and symptoms of HIV will show up. So if I’m checking for cavities, gum disease and oral cancer, why wouldn’t I check for HIV, especially when the test is just a swab of the mouth, which is 99.4 percent accurate?

H&S: How did you become the first in the in the nation to be certified and trained to offer this test?
In early 2009, I was writing my book, 5 Steps to a Hollywood A-List Smile, and I wanted to give back to a charitable organization. I found out about Hope’s Voice International and their Does HIV Look Like Me? campaign. They were looking for doctors to put together a testing kit to mail to different doctors’ offices. So I called and asked if they’d ever thought about dentists. They suggested I call the New York State Department of Health, which had been looking for ways to get dental professionals involved in testing. The more avenues we have for testing, the more we can diagnose, and the more people we can get to early care.

How quickly were you able to start testing?
I reached out to Hope’s Voice in April 2009. By June, I had the lab waiver to do testing onsite. Then my entire staff took a day of hands-on training courses and counseling so that anybody in my office can perform the test. We started actively testing around August 2009. The health department gives me the test kits for free, so I can pass along the tests to my patients for free.

Are patients receptive to having an HIV test in their dentist’s office?
About 70 percent to 80 percent of our patients have accepted testing. We’ve completed least 500 to 600 tests. And what we hear when we offer the test is that a lot of times the medical doctors don’t routinely ask them if they want an HIV test. I’ve had people tell me they’ve never been asked. The people who deny the test generally are my married clients, some of who feel safe because they’ve been with the same partner for a long time. But I still recommend getting tested because infidelity happens.

What percentage of your patients have tested positive?
Surprisingly only one patient has tested positive so far.

And some of the proceeds from your book go to Hope’s Voice International.
5 Steps to a Hollywood A-List Smile is a consumer guide to dentistry that covers how to find a dentist, mistakes we make as patients, the pros and cons of the top procedures on the market, pricing and the number of visits procedures should take, and how to find affordable dental services if you don’t have insurance. I chose Hope’s Voice because it is an organization committed to promoting the education, prevention and the end of stigma of HIV and AIDS to young adults. They empower ambassadors and speakers—young people who will get out and educate our youth. It is important to hear from someone living with AIDS or HIV.

Learn more about Dr. Catrise Austin here

Aids Health Foundation

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