HIV Discrimination in Dental Care: Results of a Testing Study in Los Angeles Study
By Brad Sears, Christian Cooper, Fariba S. Younai, Tom Donohoe
Thirty years after HIV was first identified, for the majority of those infected in the United States, effective combination therapies to combat HIV have turned the disease into a manageable chronic condition. But HIV discrimination has still proven intractable in the field of health care. For example, a series of studies has revealed that 46 percent of skilled nursing facilities, 55 percent of OB/GYNs, and 26 percent of plastic surgeons in Los Angeles County refuse to provide services to any HIV-positive patient, in violation of state and federal law.
This study examines HIV discrimination among dentists in Los Angeles County. For people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), dental care is particularly important because problems in the mouth may be the first symptoms of an HIV infection and can also signify disease progression; routine, proper dental care can have a significant impact on oral and general health. This study reveals that 5 percent of dentists in Los Angeles County have a blanket policy of refusing to accept any HIV-positive patient, which is substantially lower than the finding for other health care providers. However, this study also suggests that PLWHA who are poor and the most vulnerable, including women and people of color, face higher rates of discrimination. This study goes on to explain that dentists can effectively and safely treat PLWHA, and it identifies why they are legally and ethically obligated to provide such care. After reviewing prior social science research on HIV discrimination by dentists, this study presents its methodology and findings. Finally, it concludes by exploring potential reasons for why the documented discrimination rate is lower for dentists than it is for other health care providers in Los Angeles County, and it argues that future enforcement and education efforts should be targeted toward specific categories of dentists.
*Article published in the Loyola Law Review – Symposium: LGBT Identity and the Law (Spring 2012)