New York: Dental Clinic Specializes in HIV/AIDS Patients, Cuts Out Fear of Seeing Dentist

Last fall, the nonprofit group Housing Works opened a full-service health clinic in Brooklyn exclusively for women with HIV/AIDS. A dental clinic housed in the facility, located at 57 Willoughby St., also accepts male patients.

“Many of the people who come here have neglected their teeth because they have so many other health concerns,” said Dr. Hallie Williams, chief of the dental clinic. “They feel ashamed because they know their teeth are not in good shape. We work with them to put those fears at bay.”

The dental clinic takes precautions to ensure the patients’ immune systems are strong enough to tolerate the required treatments, said Williams. Extra care is taken to reduce the risk of transmission. “We use gloves, drapes, disposable instruments, and we have an extensive sterilization system,” she said.

Priscilla Jackson of Flatbush said she is grateful for the clinic, especially after having several bad experiences with dentists unfamiliar with treating HIV patients. “I went to one place and when the dentist found out I was HIV-positive, he started yelling down the hallway to a colleague, ‘I can’t touch her!’ He was afraid, even though he had on gloves and he had on a mask. He was asking questions like, ‘How’d you get it?,” she noted.

Another dentist pulled Jackson’s teeth but prescribed no antibiotics to prevent infection, she said. “When I came to Housing Works, I learned that’s what he should have done,” said Jackson.