A project run by NHS England, Queen Mary University of London and Healthy London Partnerships is looking to “harness” the interactions between community pharmacies and parents of children and young people with oral health problems. But how could pharmacists benefit?
How good is oral health in the UK?
Pharmacists may be surprised to learn that tooth decay is the most prevalent – and preventable – oral disease affecting children in the UK. Some 63,000 children under 19 years were admitted to hospital for tooth extractions in England in 2014-15, at a cost of £35 million to the NHS.
What does the project involve?
The London project, which includes a public health campaign and an audit of pharmacy data, aims to understand what types of oral health problems prompt the parents of children and young people to consult community pharmacies.
The campaign will raise awareness of tooth decay in children and young people. Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows the extent of the problem: 25% of five-year-olds experience tooth decay in their primary (baby) teeth, and 21% of 12-year-olds have tooth decay in their adult teeth.
It makes sense to launch the campaign in London, as children in the capital have higher levels of tooth decay (27.2%) when compared to the national average (24.7%), according to PHE.
Why involve community pharmacists?
The health bosses and researchers behind the project say community pharmacists have a major role to play in improving oral health in children. “They may be the first point of contact for the parents and carers of children and young people who visit pharmacies seeking advice or analgesics to manage dental pain,” the researchers say.
These encounters also provide opportunities to encourage signposting to local dentists, so that children and young people can receive appropriate and timely dental treatment.
What were pharmacists asked to do?
The campaign and audit were supported by local pharmaceutical committees (LPCs) in the capital, and their members participated in the design of the project.
Community pharmacies in London were contractually required to take part in the first phase of the project – the awareness campaign – and pharmacies displayed leaflets and information to signpost to local dentists.
The second phase involved a voluntary audit. Pharmacies encouraged all parents, carers, and young people (aged up to 19) who collected a prescription, bought an over-the counter medicine (OTC), or asked for advice about OTC pain medication, to complete an online survey.
Pharmacies were paid £75 for their participation in the audit, and were expected to make an average of 15 patient entries each.
What will the outcome be?
The project team will use the five-minute, eight-question surveys to collect data on the oral health needs of children and young people in London. The survey could “support commissioners in future service design”, and according to the research group, “provides an excellent opportunity for CPD for the pharmacy team”. It may also “provide valuable information [about the] training and development needs of community pharmacies in oral pain management”.
What can pharmacists learn about oral pain medication sales?
The researchers say that approximately 90,000 paediatric analgesic items are processed every month across England. They chose to run the project in November as this “reflects the period when sales of over-the-counter analgesics and dispensing activity for analgesics are generally high”.
This project shows there's still plenty that pharmacists can learn about this common product category.