How a Sunderland University project on oral health advice from pharmacies could save the NHS millions

Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader of MPharm at the University of Sunderland.
Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader of MPharm at the University of Sunderland.

A Sunderland University project focusing on the helpfulness of community pharmacies for oral health tips is being rolled out across the North East.

Poor oral health costs the NHS in England £3.4billion annually and tooth decay is becoming the most common reason for children aged between five and nine to be admitted to hospital.

Pharmacists are offering oral health advice to waiting patients.

Pharmacists are offering oral health advice to waiting patients.

Sunderland University and Durham County Council's Public Health Team joined forces to work on a project, inviting pharmacies to take part in a pilot to issue helpful advice to families.

Five pharmacies in County Durham signed up and introduced a five-minute oral health intervention to patients as they waited for prescriptions or visited for other advice.

More than 1,000 were spoken to as part of the pilot. Advice included how to brush teeth properly, which products to use and how to look after gums.

Following the intervention, 72% of those who took part reported that their knowledge or oral health improved, while 66% said they would make changes to their oral health routine.

Sixty-four per cent also said that they thought a pharmacy was the right place to receive advice on oral health.

Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader for the Master of Pharmacy programme in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences a Sunderland University, worked with the Durham County Council Public Health team to develop the project.

He said the idea came from research which looked at the role of community pharmacies and how accessible they were to patients, as well as how often people visited them for advice from healthcare professionals.

Mr Sturrock continued: "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."

The study also provides evidence that members of the public see community pharmacies as an "acceptable provider" of such advice, giving the locations potential to provide positive changes to oral health across the country, he added.

Improving a person's oral health can also have a positive impact on other health conditions.

Claire Jones, Public Health Pharmacy Adviser, at Durham County Council also praised the project's work, and 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 in 2018.

"In addition, oral health became one of the local targets for 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.”