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According to Dr Meng-Wong Taing, pharmacists should be more involved in providing oral health information and guidance to their patients. (Image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock)

Interview: How dentists and pharmacists can collaborate and improve their patients’ health

By Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International
September 07, 2020

A lecturer at the University of Queensland’s School of Pharmacy, Dr Meng-Wong Taing is passionate about expanding the role pharmacists play in improving their patients’ health through a collaborative approach. Naturally, this approach includes giving advice regarding appropriate oral healthcare. In this interview, Taing discusses why oral health promotion means so much to him and shows how dentists and pharmacists can work together in order to optimise patient health outcomes.

Dr Taing, as someone with a background in pharmacy, what first made you interested in maintaining oral health?
Since my youth, I have had a predisposition for cavities. My parents made us brush our teeth, so I was surprised that I constantly needed fillings at my annual school dental check-ups and also later in life.

Dr Meng-Wong Taing. (Image: Meng-Wong Taing)

Growing up, I developed poor oral hygiene habits and, in hindsight, didn’t brush my teeth properly. It wasn’t until I found a proactive dentist who educated me on identifying plaque that I developed a greater self-interest and increased confidence about the better management of my oral health. By following simple oral hygiene recommendations, I have been filling-free for over six years—that’s a record for me!

What I realised was how simple it is to prevent cavities and promote good oral health. All I needed to do was make subtle changes in how I looked after my teeth—something I wish I’d known much earlier in life. Being better educated in oral healthcare, I now feel empowered and confident about maintaining my oral health and would like to promote better oral hygiene practices for everyone, particularly for the disadvantaged, who are at a much greater risk of having poor oral health.

What are the benefits of getting pharmacists more involved in providing advice and services regarding oral healthcare?
Pharmacists have great access to patients within the community, which provides them with ample opportunity to promote oral healthcare and offer advice. The average Australian visits his or her community pharmacy approximately 14 times a year, and we also know from various studies that pharmacy staff express a strong interest in promoting better oral healthcare within their communities.

“Pharmacists have great access to patients within the community, which provides them with ample opportunity to promote oral healthcare and offer advice”

Specifically, pharmacists may be more involved in:

  • identifying patients at risk of poor oral health;
  • implementing oral health prevention initiatives and providing advice on good oral hygiene and minor oral health problems;
  • supplying oral health products and providing evidence-based advice;
  • informing patients about medications which may affect oral health, including medicines that increase the risk of dental caries;
  • implementing assessment and referral pathways;
  • carrying out oral health promotion activities and events; and
  • addressing common risk factors in chronic diseases.

What can dental professionals do to make this collaborative approach a reality?
I believe that the principles underpinning good collaborative working relationships are trust, open communication pathways and professionalism. The advice I give to my pharmacist colleagues that can be reciprocated by dentists for promoting good collaborative working relationships includes:

  • Get to know your local pharmacist if you’re a dentist, and vice versa. Reach out to each other, share ideas and support each other in your clinical practices so that you aren’t isolated and feeling alone.
  • Make yourselves available for each other whenever there is need. In your busy schedules, please make sure to provide a timely response if a call is missed or a message is left.
  • Find ways in which you can assist each other. By talking openly about your respective needs, try to identify where you can best support each other’s practices and work hard towards achieving these goals with the aim of improving patient outcomes.

To make this collaborative approach a reality, there is also a need for growing partnerships and collaborations between national professional dental and pharmacy organisations. These partnerships could support the development and implementation of mutually appropriate pharmacy practice guidelines, decision support pathways and interprofessional education resources.

“There is [...] a need for growing partnerships and collaborations between national professional dental and pharmacy organisations”

Is your model specific to Australia and its approach to oral health? Is it influenced, for example, by the fact that only 53% of Australians possess dental coverage?
Currently, there are no established oral healthcare models within Australian community pharmacies.

What is needed is the development and evaluation of innovative and collaborative pharmacy-based models to address poor oral health in rural and metropolitan regions. We need to show evidence that implementation of any proposed model is feasible, effective and mutually acceptable by both professions. I am working with Australian dentists, university dental schools and government health departments in order to obtain funding for the development and testing of collaborative oral healthcare models.

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