Community pharmacies across the north-east of England will offer oral health advice to patients following the success of a pilot scheme.
The pilot, set up by the University of Sunderland and Durham County Council in 2016, introduced ‘five-minute oral health interventions’ to patients at five pharmacies in deprived areas of County Durham.
More than 1,000 patients were advised on how to brush their teeth, which products to use and how to look after their teeth and gums while they waited for prescriptions or when they popped into the pharmacy for advice and medications.
According to a report on the pilot’s findings, 72% of patients said their knowledge of oral health was ‘much better’ and 66% said they would ‘definitely’ make changes to their oral health habits after receiving the advice.
Following this success, the scheme will be rolled out across the North East in the hope that it will save the NHS money.
Poor oral health currently costs the NHS in England £3.4bn annually and tooth decay is the most common reason for hospital admissions among children aged five to nine, according to the report.
‘Not taking over’
Andrew Sturrock, of the Master of Pharmacy programme at the University of Sunderland, worked with Durham County Council’s Public Health team to develop the project, based on his research into the role of community pharmacies.
He said: ‘[Community pharmacists] 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.
‘We already know there are lots of people who don’t have a dentist, have phobias about dental treatment or avoid regular check-ups, especially in deprived areas.’
Mr Sturrock said pharmacies will ‘certainly not’ be taking over the dentists’ role but will deliver basic healthcare advice and signpost patients as appropriate.
He added: ‘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 health conditions, such as diabetes.’
The pilot found that over two-thirds (64%) of the 1,089 patients thought a pharmacy was the right place to receive oral health advice.
Mr Sturrock said: ‘The study provides evidence that a community pharmacy is perceived by patients as an acceptable provider of oral health interventions and has the potential to provide positive changes to the oral health of the population.’
‘On the agenda’
Public health pharmacy adviser at Durham County Council Claire Jones said: ‘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 (HEE) in 2018.
‘In addition, oral health became one of the local targets for Healthy Living Pharmacies (HLPs) 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.’
Rachel Lish, clinical lead for multi-disciplinary oral health, HEE North East, said the oral health training programme aims to highlight the importance of oral health in relation to diabetes control, dementia and mental health.
She added: ‘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 inequalities.’