The case of Kimberly Bergalis, the 22-year-old woman from Florida who apparently contracted AIDS from her dentist during tooth extractions, raises a question for anyone who has ever had surgery.

Could someone be infected by a health care professional who followed the accepted barriers to transmission of the AIDS virus -- that is, wearing both gloves and a mask -- and suffered no known cut that could have exchanged blood with the patient?

AIDS victim Bergalis says yes. A college graduate from the small shore town of Fort Pierce, she has stepped forward as the unnamed woman in a report released this summer by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta describing the first possible transmission of AIDS between a dentist and his patient during surgery.

Concern over the report grew last week when Florida health officials announced that two other former patients of the dentist, David J. Acer, had been found to carry the virus during tests inspired by the Bergalis case.

Acer died this summer and, in an open letter to the community published just after his death, said he did not believe he was the cause of Bergalis's disease but urged patients who were concerned to be tested. Florida health officials said that so far, 449 of the dentist's former patients have been tested, with results available on 415.

Florida health officials could not say, pending molecular tests, whether the latest reported cases were linked to Acer or how these people contracted the disease.

Researchers are testing their blood to see if there is any connection between their cases and the dentist's.

No one may ever know for sure why Kimberly Bergalis is sick with AIDS, a disease whose virus is spread through blood or semen. Many questions remain about the transmission, both in Bergalis's case and the possible new cases.

Facing a firestorm of questions since its first announcement, the CDC has grown silent. Representatives of the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association have taken CDC to task for gaps in its report -- such as how the transmission could have occurred -- and asked for additional study.

It appears from the CDC statement -- in its July 27 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report -- that Acer was not interviewed at length about the case. The report said, however, that he recalled no needle sticks or cuts resulting in visible blood while caring for patients since he was found to carry the AIDS virus. Nor does Bergalis recall the dentist's suffering any cut during her procedure.

The CDC, citing privacy, has refused to name Bergalis or Acer as the persons involved. But its report says that the woman in question has no history of blood tranfusions, intravenous drug use, tattoos, sexual disease or pregnancy.

No known boyfriend of the young woman has tested positive for the AIDS virus, nor has any member of her family, the report said. The dentist remains the only known infected person with whom she had contact.

According to the report, the dentist's AIDS was diagnosed three months before her tooth extractions. Seventeen months later, she developed thrush, an illness that can be AIDS-related. Seven months after that, in December 1989, she suffered a bout of AIDS-related pneumonia. She was then tested and found positive for the AIDS virus.

The report found the link between the dentist and the woman "possible," based on the genetic make-up of the virus in the doctor and patient.

CDC investigators got blood samples from both the woman and the dentist, extracted DNA molecules from the AIDS virus in both and compared them. They found striking similarities, closer than those for other cases known to be linked.

Epidemiologists have theorized that the dentist somehow transmitted his blood to Bergalis either through contaminated instruments or through her open wound when her teeth were removed.

Or did he? CDC has begun the same molecular or genetic sequencing tests on the blood of 100 other persons known to be HIV-positive in southeast Florida, according to Florida Health and Rehabilitative Services spokesman Steve Konicki. The results will be studied to see if the same virus found in Bergalis and the dentist could be part of an area-wide viral strain, one not linked solely to the dentist, he said.

CDC spokesmen would not discuss the new cases. Konicki said researchers did not yet know what, if any, risk factors might have contributed to the new cases, and it could be weeks before the results of the new genetic sequencing are known.

CDC so far has made no new recommendations to the medical community based on the Bergalis case. But the questions here are obvious: Should there be more protection during invasive procedures, or are current protections enough? The medical community has come down on both sides of the issue.

The American Dental Association has questioned the results of the Bergalis genetic sequencing, as well as the depth of the CDC investigation.

The American Medical Association spokesman has said the CDC made a bad "judgment call" in releasing the report and alarming the public without full information.

A spokesman for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has said all the cases illustrate the need to better protect both patients and health care professionals from blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B and AIDS. There is now "a legitimate national question about the risk of blood-borne diseases," said Sanford Kuvin, a physician and vice president of the infectious disease organization.

"The real problem with {the Bergalis} case, though, is there just isn't enough information," said physician Lonnie Bristow, a member of the AMA board of trustees. "It's sad that so much distress has occurred in the face of having so little information."

Bergalis has said she realized her case was making medical history only when she heard NBC anchorwoman Jane Pauley describe it this summer on the nightly news.

Stunned, Bergalis realized the "unidentified young woman" in the broadcast had to be her. She phoned CDC the next day, but no one would confirm her belief. She got her answer weeks later, after filing written Freedom of Information Act demands for the case file.

In it were repeated interviews by CDC investigators with Bergalis, her mother, two former boyfriends and other friends. Although CDC tested all members of her family for the AIDS virus, Bergalis's father and sisters were not interviewed. Bergalis held a press conference shortly after Acer's death in which she identified herself as the patient in the CDC report.

Since her diagnosis, she has been undergoing treatment for AIDS, taking AZT, as well as an anti-viral drug to prevent other infections and experimental drugs. She is suing Acer's estate for malpractice, as well as the insurer who referred her to his practice.

Bergalis declined to let a reporter review the CDC file because of the "private nature" of several of the interviews. She responded, however, to many personal questions.

Did CDC ever ask her if she had sex with Acer? "The question was put differently," she said. "They said, 'You didn't have an affair with the dentist, did you?' I said, 'No, I did not' . . . No. I didn't have sex with him."

Bergalis, who was raised Catholic, also told the investigators she had not had intercourse with her boyfriends. They couldn't believe it, she said. "It wasn't as much a religious decision as much as I never met the right person," she said.

Bergalis said she mentioned the possibility of infection from her dentist to CDC investigators a few weeks after she was told of her diagnosis in December 1989.

"When my mom and I couldn't come up with anything else, we brought up the dentist. {That he had AIDS} was only a rumor, but we didn't have anything else . . . They told me then that would be a dead end."