Pervasive discrimination against people living with HIV persists in the health care field in violation of state and federal law. In a study of HIV discrimination in dental care in Los Angeles County, the authors found that refusal to provide services to people with HIV was significantly lower among dentists than other health care providers, such as nurses, obstetricians/ gynecologists, and plastic surgeons. The findings indicated higher rates of HIV discrimination by older dentists and dentists graduating from dental schools outside the United States; and in areas with higher rates of HIV infection in low-income, female and people of color populations, such as San Gabriel Valley and South Central Los Angeles. The authors also found a higher rate of HIV discrimination against patients with Denti-Cal, dental coverage provided by the state to low-income individuals.
The authors suggest the lower rates of discrimination among dentists are the result of sustained civil rights litigation, government enforcement, and education efforts targeting dentists in Los Angeles County over the past 20 years. Based on their findings, the authors provide helpful guidance regarding the content and audience for future education efforts. They recommend targeting front line employees in dental offices; dentists serving low-income, women, and people of color, particularly in the areas identified as having higher rates of discrimination; and dentists who graduated from dental schools outside the United States or who graduated prior to the sustained enforcement and education efforts.
In addition to the methodology, findings, and conclusion, this article includes a discussion of the established view in the medical community that dentists can effectively and safely treat patients with HIV, an overview of the legal and ethical duty dentists have to provide care to people with HIV, and a survey of research on HIV discrimination by dentists and other health care providers.