We have examined the hypothesis that individuals infected with human immune deficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) experience significant, specific alterations in mechanisms protecting the oral cavity prior to the appearance of AIDS-related systemic opportunistic infections. In a study of 13 early-stage, stable anti-HIV antibody positive patients, parotid salivary function was found to be generally intact. In contrast, several indicators of submandibular gland dysfunction were detected. In particular, stimulated fluid output was decreased and salivary lysozyme levels were increased relative to controls by 50-60% for both resting (p < 0.05) and stimulated (p < 0.001) conditions. Also, the frequency of albumin detection in submandibular saliva samples was ~65% in HIV-1 infected patients vs. 0% in controls (p < 0.05). In addition, cytologic evaluation of oral mucosa revealed a fivefold increase in the prevalence of candidal hyphae in HIV-1 infected patients compared to controls (41% vs. 8%, p < 0.05). We conclude that normal oral defense mechanisms show signs of compromise in HIV-1 infected individuals. We suggest that (a) effects of HIV-1 infection are seen early in the oral cavity, (b) impairment of oral defense mechanisms may facilitate entry of microorganisms with an attendant increased risk of morbidity and mortality, and (c) intensive oral surveillance and prophylactic care should be part of the routine management afforded to AIDS patients soon after HIV-1 infection is recognized.
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