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Rural pharmacists can, and should, play a greater role in oral health care than they currently do, study finds 

Rural pharmacies are often a patient’s first port of call when dealing with oral health, but at the moment pharmacists may not be providing the level of service that they could with greater support and education, a study has found.

Detailed face to face interviews with 20 rural pharmacists revealed that they felt themselves the first choice for dealing with patient oral health issues, but that significant barriers were currently preventing a greater role taking place.  

The authors, from the University of Tasmania, said their findings suggested the strong advisory and referral role played by rural pharmacists in oral health care.

The pharmacists they interviewed agreed that there was more scope for pharmacist involvement in this area, however barriers, particularly lack of collaboration with dental services, and lack of education, were currently hampering any greater role. 

“Our findings suggest that rural people presented to community pharmacies with a range of oral health problems,” the authors said.

“The local pharmacy was seen as being readily accessible. Barriers prevented residents from accessing specific dental services, including the cost of dental care and lack of access to dentists.”

The authors said the situation should be reversed and that there is “potential for rural or remote community pharmacies to form collaborations with dental practitioners to implement preventive oral health services and to play a greater role in improving the oral health of these communities.”

While most of the respondent pharmacists displayed confidence in providing oral care support and advice, they said there was little about it in their undergraduate course and none had completed any recent oral health training.

They indicated wanting online training in oral health, with some face to face practice element included. 

“Stronger collaborations between pharmacists and dentists and better oral health education
and training for pharmacists may enhance their roles in oral health,” the authors concluded.

“This will potentially reduce disparities in oral health among the rural residents”.

The research was published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health

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