As a new dentist, Dr. Carole Ann Boyd pushed aside fear to guide the first of many dental patients through AIDS diagnoses. After 37 years as trailblazer, she spearheads support for the LGBTQ+ community in Dallas.
In 1984 as a recent graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas, Carole Ann Boyd, DDS diagnosed AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in a new dental patient. Just two years prior, the Centers for Disease Control had first used the term AIDS to describe a global epidemic originally linked to gay communities. Death rates were increasing exponentially, and lack of definitive answers created panic and stigma.
Today, Dr. Boyd discusses a realization that inspired her strides within dentistry over the 37 years that followed, treating, identifying, and researching the impact of HIV and AIDS. LGBTQ+ Pride month, which each June recognizes the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history, provides a welcome opportunity to recognize Dr. Boyd’s trailblazing efforts within the dental community.
“I was honored to ride in the Pride parade here, on a float. A long time ago, the Dallas Morning News had these pages of names printed of people who were gay. You had to enroll to say ‘Yes, you can print my name.’ That was huge for me, because everybody read newspapers back then. And I thought, my family is going to lose it…but it is important. Everybody needs to know that they know someone gay.” – Dr. Carole Ann Boyd.
“Early in my career was I was so closeted, but with time I realized it was important for me to participate in those kinds of things (Pride parades),” said Dr. Boyd.
“I got involved with AIDS because in 1984 a commercial airline pilot came in as a new patient, and he said, ‘Something’s wrong with me. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t feel good and my mouth is a mess.’ I took one look at his mouth and within a few seconds realized he had AIDS. Even though I’d never seen a case, I had been studying it,” said Dr. Boyd.
“Sure enough, we got him tested, and he was dead within two weeks. But he sent me all these people. He kept telling all his friends something that wasn’t true. He said, ‘Go see Dr. Boyd, she can tell you if you’ve got it,’ which wasn’t really true, only if they were end stage and had all the manifestations. But I got a ton of people in that period of time. I was terrified, I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t know how it was transmitted…it was really scary,” said Dr. Boyd, referencing the dental patients in her care at a solo practice she had established in North Dallas.
“I called one of mentors and said, ‘I don’t want to do this, I’m terrified.’ And she said, ‘If you don’t do it, who’s going to do it?’ I realized that’s true. It’s like coming upon a wreck in the desert and you’re the only one there, do you stop or drive on? Well, I don’t know how you could not stop…it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.”
– Dr. Carole Ann Boyd
In the midst of guiding her patients through their harrowing discoveries, Dr. Boyd experienced personal misfortune.
“When I graduated from school in 1984, I built a [solo] practice,” said Dr. Boyd. “I had it being built before I even passed the state boards. I don’t know if you call it brave or stupid. It all worked out and I had a lovely practice here in Dallas,” she said.
“Then, I had a car accident; I was hit from behind on the freeway. They told me I was disabled and could never practice again.”
Undaunted, she shifted course, sold her practice and ventured to San Antonio, where determination fueled her to continue her course of study at the University of Texas Health Science Center. As she recovered, Dr. Boyd attended the dental and medical Schools there from 1988 through 1992. During that time, she received a certificate in Dental Diagnostic Science, which offered advanced training in Oral Medicine, Radiology, and Forensic Odontology. She also completed fellowships in Geriatric Dentistry and Medical Ethics.
A profound calling motivated the next step in Dr. Boyd’s journey.
“After several years and realizing that the AIDS patients could not get regular dental work done because no one would do it, I decided to see if I could try to do it again. I got to where I could, it took several years, but I got to where I could do it. Now, I’m pretty good at it, I think. I was lucky that I proved them wrong about my prognosis.”
Experiences inspired Dr. Boyd to learn more about the impact of HIV and AIDS in the LGBTQ+ community, which led her to become a subject matter expert at the time.
“There was there was just so much medicine, oral medicine related to HIV and AIDS. I had always been really interested in oral pathology and oral medicine…it was sort of a natural progression to learn more. And then as I went, I built a clinic.” – Dr. Carole Ann Boyd
Dr. Boyd was instrumental in creating the Ryan White Dental Clinic at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, where she led as Dental Director. The clinic is named in tribute to the 13-year-old Kokomo, Indiana boy diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984. White faced AIDS-related discrimination in his community during an attempt to return to school. and sought to educate on a national level about his disease until his death in1990.
“It actually started as a screening clinic where patients would just come through, all I would do is look, and maybe write a prescription. But the more unusual things I saw, the more I wanted to study. That’s part of my residency and fellowship. I had to do research. That became just a natural thing to do because I had probably more experience with HIV and AIDS than most people.”
Bringing her expertise back home to Dallas
After lecturing extensively and performing research Dr. Boyd returned to Dallas in 1992, where she re-established the Dental Clinic at the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic for AIDS Research and was Director of Dental Services until 1996.
“… Most everybody that was on the dental staff was a volunteer. And I was so impressed with how hard they work. They were working just like they were being paid. I was just amazed by it,” said Dr. Boyd.
“I think I enjoyed doing the free clinic work much more than anything, because it was almost like just giving a gift and not having to say, ‘OK, pay me for it.’
Every patient experience is meaningful to Dr. Boyd, including her treatment for one terminally-ill patient.
“…all of his front teeth were just black with decay. He hated it and was embarrassed to say goodbye to his family. He hadn’t seen them in a long time because it embarrassed him to have them see him like that…After I finished the day’s work, I said, ‘You stay.’ He came in and I did composite veneers across all that decay on his front teeth, so they looked nice even if they were still decayed. He was going to die within weeks, so, I did [the work] that night. He was so pleased. He was so happy because he wasn’t embarrassed to go and tell his family goodbye.”
Helping patients when no one else would is a responsibility she accepted without question in her role as a caregiver.
“Back during the AIDS situation, I was treating a lot of oral medicine patients. I was treating the viruses, fungal infections, and cancers,” said Dr. Boyd.
“Kaposi’s Sarcoma was prominent then and I treated that. For a patient here in Dallas, it was growing so fast it was trying to close off his airway, it was getting into his oral pharynx, and his soft palate was almost closed. The physicians in town wouldn’t treat him because they thought it was going to put them at risk, if they treated the sarcoma, that they would get the virus.
He was going to die from that. He said, ‘Go ahead and see what you can do.’ I treated it and he did great. He is still alive today.”- Dr. Carole Ann Boyd
Providing support and creating allies for the LGBTQ+ community
By sharing her valuable experiences and lessons, learned Dr. Boyd’s hopes to impart an understanding of what it means to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community.
Her personal journey offers hope, insight and perspective.
“I was very closeted… and so I had dates to everything. I changed pronouns. I did everything I was supposed to do. I had previously dated men. I almost got married a couple of times and then finally realized, no, I truly am gay. I remained closeted for quite a while just because I was terrified that it would hurt me.” -Dr. Carole Ann Boyd
“When I came back to Dallas, I realized that I needed to treat the patients with HIV and AIDS. I thought the only way that to get it out into the community that I’m here is to advertise but I didn’t believe in advertising at the time. I was old school. … I should be getting my patients by word of mouth.”
When Dr. Boyd realized so many people had no access to care and needed to know where they could find care, she took a brave step in support of her decision to come out and in support of the patients she hoped to assist.
“I took out an ad in the Dallas Voice, which is an LGBT weekly newspaper. I know it startled people to see me there. But I thought, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to let them know I’m here for HIV AIDS issues.”- -Dr. Carole Ann Boyd
The rest is history. As the patients flooded to her practice, a truth came into focus for Dr. Boyd.
“I started to see the importance of living as who we are. No one chooses to be gay or trans or anything else. It’s just how they’re born. And we deserve to be comfortable with who we are,” she said.
“My whole life is not different from any straight person I know — and most of my friends are straight. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with my best friend for 40 years; we’ve lived together for 33. So, I began allowing myself to be more out.”
Dr. Boyd recalls limitations that she felt as a young professional, prior to her decision to come out.
“Once I got out of school, I stopped being personally involved in organized dentistry because it was just too stressful for me. To participate, I had to lie about who I was. I am not a good liar, which caused me to be very uncomfortable.”
Recent shifts give her hope for the next wave of dentists.
“Things have changed; the younger generation of dentists has gay people as presidents of their organizations. It’s mind-boggling to me,” she said.
“… If I had been allowed to be myself, I think I definitely would’ve gotten involved, because I’m involved in my community. I’m normally hands on, but I just sent money because I couldn’t handle the stress. …When I finally decided to come out and be myself, it helped me.”
Her commitment within the Texas community is significant, especially in Dallas, where she operates a private practice at Highland Park Place with Dr. Jon Vogel.
From participating in the Dallas PRIDE parade years ago to providing an example of empathy, Dr. Boyd lends her voice in support because she realizes it is needed today as much as in 1984 when she began her career.
“I think the fact that I’m seeing a return to dentists refusing to treat HIV/AIDS patients and Trans patients is concerning…It is the fear of the unknown.” Dr. Carole Ann Boyd.
“I have had to become more sensitive to the Trans community. I have had to just say, ‘Teach me.’ The more I have gotten to know people and the more that they share their stories with me, the more I understand and have empathy and compassion,” she said.
“It’s usually our fear of the unknown that keeps us from doing the right thing.”
— Kristie Ceruti contributed to this article.