A pilot scheme offering oral health advice through pharmacies is being rolled out across north east England.
The scheme offers a ‘five-minute oral health intervention’ as customers wait for their prescriptions.
This includes advising patients on how to brush their teeth properly and checking they were using the right products.
‘This started as a simple idea, based on my research looking at the role of community pharmacies,’ Andrew Sturrock, principal lecturer and programme leader, said.
Pharmacists are well-trained healthcare professionals, easily accessible and frequently visited by patients.
‘We know there are people who don’t have a dentist, have phobias about treatment or avoid regular check-ups.
‘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.
‘It’s also about trying to prevent people from needing dental treatment later on, potentially saving millions on NHS treatment.’
Before being rolled out, five pharmacies in deprived areas of County Durham took part in a pilot.
More than 1,000 patients took part in the intervention.
Results show 72% of participants improved their oral health knowledge, with 66% saying they would change their habits.
‘The success of this scheme did help to keep oral health training on the agenda for community pharmacies,’ Claire Jones, public health pharmacy adviser, Durham County Council said.
‘In addition, oral health became one of the local targets for pharmacies in County Durham in the 2018/19 award.
‘And lastly, oral health in children is now a focus in the current national quality payment scheme for pharmacies.’
Children’s use of non-dental services to treat oral pain is costing the NHS £2.3m a year.
That’s according to the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), which found thousands of children with oral pain going to pharmacies, A&E and other non-dental services.
The study found that 65% of pharmacy visits by parents were to get pain medications to treat children’s oral pain.
‘The fact that only 30% of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before going to a pharmacy highlights a concerning underuse of dental services,’ lead researcher, Dr Vanessa Muirhead from QMUL, said.
‘Children with oral pain need to see a dentist for a definitive diagnosis and to treat any tooth decay.
‘Not treating a decayed tooth can result in more pain, abscesses and possible damage to children’s permanent teeth.
‘These children had not only failed to see a dentist before their pharmacy visit, they had seen GPs and a range of other health professionals outside dentistry.
‘This inappropriate and overuse of multiple health services including A&E is costing the NHS a substantial amount of money.’