San Fernando Valley dentists surveyed on Tuesday said they already take most of the precautions against the deadly AIDS virus that were recommended last week by a Los Angeles task force.
However, some dentists interviewed by telephone said they have been more careful since Dr. Neil R. Schram, chairman of the Los Angeles City-County AIDS Task Force, suggested that dentists wear protective gloves, masks and eyeglasses and use heat-sterilized instruments to prevent the spread of the disease through saliva or blood. Others said their patients have become worried about contracting AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, during dental treatment.
Dr. James Oswald, president of the 900-member San Fernando Valley Dental Society, said that for years the organization has advised dentists to wear surgical gloves and masks when treating patients who are suspected of having hepatitis, herpes or other contagious diseases.
"If a dentist has a cut in his hand, he's especially at risk and definitely should wear gloves while performing dental work," he said. "Contact with saliva through a cut can introduce any bacteria into the bloodstream."
Eyeglasses Often Worn
Most dentists wear glasses at all times to protect their eyes from bacterial infections and from dust that forms while drilling a tooth, Oswald said.
"One of my friends who did not wear glasses got an infection and almost lost an eye," he said. "A dentist's eyes can be exposed to a lot of bacteria."
Oswald, who practices in Van Nuys, said the dental society has dealt with the threat of AIDS transmission in lectures and papers during the past year. He said he is waiting for a report scheduled to be issued this month by the California Dental Society before recommendingfurther precautions.
He said several dentists in Los Angeles County are known to have contracted hepatitis B, which can cause death and, like AIDS, is carried through the blood, but none has reported contracting AIDS, which has no known cure.
A spokeswoman for Van Nuys dentist Martin Gorman said that, before last week's recommendations by the AIDS task force, Gorman and his assistants wore gloves and masks only when a dentist had a cold or a patient was suspected of having a contagious disease.
"Now, they're wearing gloves and masks all the time," she said.
All instruments used in dental work are being sterilized with both cold and hot solutions, the spokeswoman said.
Sherman Oaks dentist Fred Adelson said he has worn surgical gloves for all dental work for about a year or two, since a friend contracted the hepatitis B virus from a patient and "almost died."
"I think patients appreciate your wearing gloves, too," he said.
Adelson said he also wears glasses to protect his eyes while working, although his vision is normal.
Dr. David Hollingsworth of Sherman Oaks said that the state dental society conducted classes on AIDS and hepatitis B during its last convention and he already had heard most of the recommendations by the task force.
"If I have any open wound, I wear gloves," he said. "I always wear clear safety glasses."
Hollingsworth said he and his partner updated all their patients' health histories about a year ago in order to include AIDS, but added that none of his patients is suspected of carrying the virus.
Encino dentist Marshall Turner said the precautions advised by the task force are not "terribly different" from those taken to prevent hepatitis.
"Dentists have always been easy prey to all kinds of diseases," he said.
AIDS patients normally do not come in for routine dental care, Turner said. Because of the danger of infection, which could prove fatal for such patients, they are referred to UCLA Medical Center for treatment, he said.
Hollingsworth and Turner said the precautions outlined by the task force, widely reported by the news media, frightened many of their patients.
"Many of the patients misunderstood," Hollingsworth said. "They thought the task force meant patients should take the precautions."
A dentist who did not wish to be identified said the AIDS task force's advice to dentists prompted one dental supply company to seize on the opportunity to make a sale. He said he had received a letter from the firm that included a newspaper article outlining the task force's warnings and offering special prices for surgical gloves and masks.
"My partner's wife panicked and ordered 20 cases," he said. "That should last us for a while."
A spokeswoman for the American Dental Council in Van Nuys, a private dental referral service, said she has received "calls all day long" every day during working hours since the task-force recommendations were reported.
"All of a sudden, people were afraid," she said. "Dentists have always taken precautions. They take health histories of their patients. Some dentists wear masks because of the tooth dust.
"But, here, all of a sudden, people are panicking because of the Rock Hudson thing," said the spokeswoman, referring to the disclosure last week that the actor has AIDS. "Rock Hudson made people aware of the AIDS danger. It'll all die down and people won't care anymore. It's so sad. But they won't remember after a while."