Br Dent J 2017;223: 521–525;

How amazing would it be if we had thousands of new oral health educators on whom to rely? Would they be able to motivate improved oral health, lower caries levels, improve periodontal health and prompt more frequent dental attendance? All sounds too good to be true? Think again, since it seems that community pharmacists are not only hovering in the background they are actively promoting oral health on a daily and regular basis, and as part of their NHS contracts.

This paper, in reporting an initiative in deprived areas of County Durham last autumn, highlights how interdisciplinary collaboration can be of great potential benefit to society in general and dental patients, actual and potential, in particular. For me, one of the key elements of this paper is the fact that people visited and asked questions of their pharmacists precisely because they are not dentists. That may seem so counterintuitive that it is nonsense and yet with careful thought it makes complete sense. Oftentimes people are wary of asking questions of 'an expert' for a variety of reasons. They may not have access – apparently 90% of the UK population has a community pharmacist 20 or fewer minutes away; they may not want to 'bother' an expert (the dentist) as it seems a small matter, or because the expert is always so very busy – the pharmacist may be rather more approachable in these contexts.

Also, we do have to remember, however reluctantly, that not everybody likes visiting us! It was a point of view often given in the days before clinical dental technicians could legally practice. Patients who attended the then 'denturists' argued that it was a dentist who had extracted all their teeth and given them the dentures that now didn't fit properly, so what was the point of going back? They attended specifically because the expert was not a dentist.

With these factors in mind it is less surprising that pharmacists can be such a valuable potential source of patient education and could potentially be helped to develop into a more recognised resource of community information on oral health. What adds further positive hope is that in another survey, quoted in this paper, a questionnaire of 354 London pharmacies found that 99.4% of participants recognised oral health promotion as part of their role and 72.5% of participants were willing to incorporate this into their NHS contract. Almost all of us in the UK have one in easy reach – shall we talk to them?

By Stephen Hancocks