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SUNDERLAND, UK: Poor oral health is a significant public health concern in the UK, costing NHS England a reported £3.4 billion annually. A new project launched by the University of Sunderland and the public health team at Durham County Council is aiming to reduce these costs, however, by utilising community pharmacies as an additional venue through which oral health advice can be communicated.
The project is based on a pilot scheme that was conducted in Durham County in 2016, in which five pharmacies in socio-economically deprived areas provided a 5-minute oral health intervention to patients as they waited for prescriptions or visited the pharmacy for advice.
More than 1,000 patients took part in the pilot scheme, which included advising patients on the proper toothbrushing technique and providing essential information on how to look after teeth and gingivae. Much better knowledge of oral health was reported by 72 per cent of participants after this intervention, and 66 per cent said that they would definitely make changes to their oral health habits.
Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader for the Master of Pharmacy programme in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Sunderland, worked with the 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,” explained Sturrock.
“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. 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,” he continued.
“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,” Sturrock concluded.