Australia’s first study into pharmacists’ role in oral healthcare has found they are consulted often, but need more training
A study by researchers from the University of Queensland’s schools of pharmacy, dentistry and public health found 84.1% of pharmacists were “regularly consulted” regarding oral health advice on a weekly basis.
Of 144 community pharmacists surveyed from across Australia, 84% were confident in recommending and giving advice about oral health products, found the paper published in this month’s issue of International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.
However, only 68% of pharmacists were confident in identifying oral health conditions – with almost all (97%) saying further education in oral health would be of benefit to their practice.
Over 90% of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they felt confident in handling patient enquiries related to analgesic medication to relieve oral-related pain (95.8%), mouth ulcers (95.1%), oral thrush (94.4%), toothache (93.8%) and smoking cessation (91.7%).
These were also the health issues they received the most frequent enquiries about.
Co-author and PSA vice president Chris Freeman says the study shows the importance of pharmacists in the arena.
“Pharmacists have a very important role to play in oral healthcare that is underrecognised,” he told AJP.
“We have a health system where people have poor access to dentists. Pharmacists may be able to help ease the overwhelming burden of patients with oral health issues,” he said.
Pharmacists have “a level of access to the community and knowledge” that would allow them to make a significant contribution to the area, he added.
One area that could be improved surrounded patient smoking status – an important risk factor for many oral health conditions, according to the researchers.
They found only 8% of pharmacists reported always asking about patient smoking status, while 17% asked most of the time, 35% sometimes, 30% hardly ever and 10% never.
“[This] highlights a potential barrier to effectively addressing an important cause of these conditions,” they write.
Participants were also surveyed on their knowledge regarding the location of the nearest dental practice and whether emergency referral arrangements had been organised.
Analysis found that pharmacist owners and managers were about twice as likely to have met their local dentist, and be aware of dental practice opening times, than other pharmacists.
Overall, 93% of pharmacists surveyed believed delivering oral health advice was within their role as a pharmacist.
“The relative exclusion of oral health from non-dental health care professions is changing,” conclude the authors.
“This study, consistent with international findings, reports Australian community pharmacists believed delivering oral health advice was within their role and were frequently consulted regarding oral health issues,” they write.
Further studies are needed to examine pharmacist training and extended roles where pharmacists could improve oral healthcare in collaboration with dental and general practitioners, they conclude.