This information is for people who have
mouth (oral) problems related to HIV infection. It explains the most common
oral problems linked to HIV and shows what they look like. It also describes
where in the mouth they occur and how they are treated.
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They are common
Oral problems are very common in people with HIV. More than a third of
people living with HIV have oral conditions that arise because of their
weakened immune system. And even though combination antiretroviral therapy has
made some oral problems less common, others are occurring more often with this
type of treatment.
They can be painful, annoying, and lead to other problems
You may be told that oral problems are minor compared to other things you
have to deal with. But you know that they can cause discomfort and
embarrassment and really affect how you feel about yourself. Oral problems can
also lead to trouble with eating. If mouth pain or tenderness makes it
difficult to chew and swallow, or if you can’t taste food as well as you used
to, you may not eat enough. And, your doctor may tell you to eat more than
normal so your body has enough energy to deal with HIV.
They can be treated
The most common oral problems linked with HIV can be treated. So talk with
your doctor or dentist about what treatment might work for you.
Remember, with the right treatment, your mouth can feel
better. And that’s an important step toward living well, not just longer, with
It could be:
What & where?
Red sores ulcers
Aphthous (AF-thus) ulcers. Also known
as Canker Sores
Red sores that might also have a
yellow-gray film on top. They are usually on the moveable parts of the
mouth such as the tongue or inside of the cheeks and lips.
Mild cases – Over-the-counter cream or
prescription mouthwash that contains corticosteroids; More severe cases
– corticosteroids in a pill form
Herpes (HER-peez) A viral infection
usually on the roof of the mouth. They are sometimes on the outside of
the lips, where they are called fever blisters
pill can reduce healing time and frequency of outbreaks.
White hairlike growth
Hairy Leukoplakia (Loo-ko-PLAY-key-uh)
caused by the Epstein-Barr virus
that do not wipe away; sometimes very thick and “hairlike.” Usually
appear on the side of the tongue or sometimes inside the cheeks and
||Mild cases –
not usually required; More severe cases – a prescription pill that may
reduce severity of symptoms. In some severe cases, a pain reliever might
also be required.
White creamy or bumpy patches like cottage cheese
a fungal (yeast) infection – Also known as thrush
yellowish patches (or can sometimes be red). If wiped away, there will
be redness or bleeding underneath. They can appear anywhere in the
||Mild cases –
prescription antifungal lozenge or mouthwash; More severe cases –
prescription antifungal pills.
gray, or pinkish rough bumps that look like cauliflower. They can appear
inside the lips and on other parts of the mouth.
mouth – a doctor can remove them surgically or use “cryosurgery” – a way
of freezing them off; On the lips – a prescription cream that will wear
away the wart. Warts can return after treatment.
If you have dry mouth
Dry mouth happens when you do not have enough saliva,
or spit, to keep your mouth wet. Saliva helps you chew and digest food, protects
teeth from decay, and prevents infections by controlling bacteria and fungi in
the mouth. Without enough saliva you could develop tooth decay or other
infections and might have trouble chewing and swallowing. Your mouth might also
feel sticky, dry and have a burning feeling. And you may have cracked, chapped
To help with a dry mouth, try these things:
- Sip water or sugarless drinks often
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy
- Avoid tobacco
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid salty foods
- Use a humidifier at night
Talk to your doctor or dentist about prescribing artificial
saliva, which may help keep your mouth moist.
This publication is not copyrighted. Make as many
photocopies as you need.
This publication is available only on the Web. NIH
Publication No. 04-5320 Posted March 2004