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Celebrating and supporting an HIV/AIDS dental clinic in Houston

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What a gem we have in our own backyard! A dental clinic that has been treating HIV and AIDS patients for 25 years, a clinic that has been here for Houston-area residents when everyone else was too fearful to treat them. 

Dr. Mark Nichols, one of the co-founders of the Bering Omega Dental Clinic in the Montrose area, met with FOX 26 News. He is the vice president of clinical affairs and helps low-income individuals who have nowhere else to turn. He tells FOX 26 that HIV is here to say. 

Because it's become a manageable disease, and you can't see its affects on patients like before, Dr. Nichols says most people often forget how real the problem is. He says the amount of people contracting HIV is on the rise, not the decline. He knows, he sees it everyday, and gets more and more patients every year.   

Dr. Nichols introduced FOX 26 to one of the very first patients to be seen at the clinic. Quentin Martin says he has been HIV positive since 1982 and doesn't know what he would do without the clinic. 

"It's made all the difference, it really has. Many of my friends go here. It would be impossible without them," states Martin. He suffers from a severe dry mouth, either because of his infection or his medications, so decay is a huge concern. He has to have his teeth cleaned every three months.

Dr. Nichols tells FOX 26 that others with HIV and AIDS often have major oral issues.

"People with HIV can get special problems with their soft tissues in their mouth, infections like HPV, human papilloma virus, cancers, so we specialize in treating those kinds of things," explains Dr. Nichols. It's important to treat them, because some of these oral issues can be fatal for a patient with HIV or AIDS, because of their compromised immune system.

Dr. Nichols says the medical industry has come along way in 25 years in terms of treating HIV/AIDS. Patients are able to lead a fairly normal life now, thanks to new advances in medication. That was not the case back in the 1980s. 

"It was scary back then, I'll be honest with you, it was really scary because there was no really good treatment for HIV, and people died routinely from it and there was a lot of fear thinking, if I stick myself while working on a patient, I could die from that. I decided to take a risk and help people because the need I saw was so immense," says Dr. Nichols. With precaution, Dr. Nichols says he's been able to stay free from the infection, and that's with 50 to 70 patients coming to the clinic daily.

We were intrigued by a world map that greets patients, as soon as they enter the clinic. Dr. Nichols pointed out  the different flags and their meanings that show just how far their outreach is. Certain flags are displayed to show dignitaries who've come to Houston to find out how to successfully run a not-for-profit clinic like this. Other flags show just how many dentists and medical workers have come here from all over the world to learn from Dr. Nichols and his staff. Dr. Nichols has also displayed the countries where he has visited to teach others how to run a clinic like this.

The biggest fundraiser for Bering Omega Dental Clinic took place on Saturday, Sept. 15. "Sing for Hope," Midnight in the Garden, featured some of the most successful opera singers in the country. The black-tie dinner and concert took place at the Houston Club and Wortham Center. This event came about in 1994, when Houston resident Camille Zamora, an opera and musical professional, created the annual Sing For Hope program. This is a music-based gala that gathers locals, to help raise funds to help boost the helpful programs at Bering Omega Dental Clinic. Mayor Annise Parker presented the Camille Zamora Award to the dental clinic's founding dentists. After the performance, guests had the opportunity to join the performers on stage at the Wortham Center for a Champagne toast and dessert. It doesn't end there! An after hours masquerade party took place at the Houston Club.

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