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PLUS Clinic Serves HIV Patients

Written by Adam Zewe

The PLUS Clinic has been providing dental treatment and health care outreach for Baltimore's HIV-positive population for nearly a quarter of a century. What began as a single-dentist clinic has expanded into a busy treatment center that served more than 600 patients last year.

UMSOD received seed money from the City of Baltimore to launch the clinic in 1989, since dental care was out of reach for many HIV-positive Baltimoreans. Private practice dentists were reluctant to treat these patients, many of whom were struggling to survive on medical assistance, explains Associate Professor Valli Meeks, DDS, MS, RDH. "A lot of these patients couldn't afford to see a private practice dentist. There was still a lot of stigma in the community surrounding HIV," she says.

Dr. Meeks visited dozens of local health care centers that treated HIV patients, spreading the word about the new clinic. Dental treatment is especially important for HIV-positive patients, who are more prone to certain types of oral lesions and papillomas that a physician might overlook. "You can't separate the mouth from the rest of the body. Treating these patients means looking at the whole person," explains Dr. Meeks, who has led the PLUS Clinic since its inception.

As the clinic grew, Dr. Meeks has expanded its outreach efforts. UMSOD is now a local performance site of the PA-Mid Atlantic AIDS Training Center. The school provides training for dentists and hygienists in proper infection control techniques. In addition, UMSOD dentists treat HIV patients in Baltimore and Prince George's counties. Through training and outreach, the clinic eliminates some stigma surrounding the disease and encourages dentists to treat HIV patients.

Students work closely with faculty members to treat patients in the PLUS Clinic. Dr. Meeks teaches students that proper infection control is vital for all patients, not just those suffering from HIV. She hopes the students learn lessons in tolerance, as well as dentistry. "I tell them: before assuming you can't treat an HIV patient, look at the whole picture," states Dr. Meeks.

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