Pharmacists Dispense Oral Health Advice to Save NHS Millions

Dentistry Today


Poor oral health costs England’s National Health Service (NHS) £3.4 billion each year, with tooth decay the most common reason for hospital admissions among children aged 5 to 9, reports the University of Sunderland. But a pilot scheme to improve oral health through pharmacies proved so successful that it is being rolled out across the northeast of England, potentially saving the NHS money.

The university’s collaboration with the Public Health Team at Durham County Council harnesses the accessibility of community pharmacies, frequently visited by patients, by offering a venue to deliver vital oral health advice and information. Five pharmacies in deprived areas of the county introduced a five-minute oral health intervention to patients as they waited for prescriptions or had just visited for advice and medications.

More than 1,000 patients took part in the intervention, which included advice on proper tooth brushing, checking that they were using the right products, and providing information about how to look after their teeth and gums. The university says 72% of the participants said their knowledge of oral health had improved, and 66% said they would definitely change their oral health habits. Also, 64% said the pharmacy was the right place to receive oral health advice. 

Andrew Sturrock, MSc, MPharm, principal lecturer and program leader for the Master of Pharmacy program in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Sunderland, worked with Durham County Council’s Public Health Team to develop the project based on his previous research assessing the impact of community pharmacies.

“This started as a simple idea, based on my research looking at the role of community pharmacies, who are well trained healthcare professionals, easily accessible and frequently visited by patients, and required to provide healthy living advice to patients, therefore offering a little explored avenue for the delivery of oral health interventions,” said Sturrock.

“We already know there are lots of people who don’t have a dentist, have phobias about dental treatment, or avoid regular checkups, especially in deprived areas. The pharmacy is certainly not taking over the dentists’ role. This is just about giving some really basic healthcare advice and signposting patients in the right direction,” Sturrock said.

“It’s also about trying to prevent people from needing dental treatment later on, potentially saving millions on NHS treatment. We know that poor oral health can have a big impact on patients and improving oral health can even have positive benefits in other systemic conditions, such as diabetes,” Sturrock said.

“The study provides evidence that a community pharmacy is perceived by patients as an acceptable provider or oral health interventions and has the potential to provide positive changes to the oral health of the population,” said Sturrock.

“The success of this scheme did help to keep oral health training on the agenda for community pharmacies through regional pharmacy training sessions that were subsequently run by the regional oral health team at Health Education England in 2018,” said Claire Jones, public health pharmacy adviser, Durham County Council.

“In addition, oral health became one of the local targets for Healthy Living Pharmacies in County Durham in the 2018/19 Award. And lastly, of course, oral health in children is now a focus in the current national quality payment scheme for pharmacies,” Jones said.

“We are delighted to have been able to provide educational input into this pilot. The Directorate is committed to promoting the importance of good oral health, including its relevance to general health,” said Rachel Lish, clinical lead for multi-disciplinary oral health, Health Education England North East.

“It currently delivers a comprehensive oral health training program for community pharmacists which aims to provide a greater understanding of the importance of oral health in general health, including, particularly in relation to diabetes control, dementia, and mental health. This supports the objectives set out in the NHS Long Term Plan of joined up care at the right time, strengthening prevention and addressing health inequities,” said Lish.

The evaluation was performed using a patient evaluation questionnaire and interviews with pharmacy staff. The study, “Oral Health Promotion in the Community Pharmacy: An Evaluation of a Pilot Oral Health Promotion Intervention,” Was published by the British Dental Journal.

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