Partnering With Pharmacists to Improve Patient Care
Collaboration can extend dentists’ reach in promoting hygiene and reducing oral health risks
Lindsay Dymowski Constantino
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic forced healthcare professionals to rethink how we work. When the nation was confronted with the urgent need to roll out testing supplies and vaccinations, pharmacists took on new responsibilities. The ways in which pharmacists successfully dealt with these historic challenges revealed that there may be other opportunities for them to help improve patient care through collaboration. When dentists partner with pharmacists, pharmacists can help them in many ways, including increasing access to patients, promoting better oral hygiene, identifying patients at-risk for poor oral health, and more.
Increasing Access to Patients
Although patients normally only visit their dentists twice a year, many visit their pharmacy once a month or with even greater frequency, which makes pharmacists the most accessible, grassroots healthcare providers. By collaborating more closely with pharmacists, dentists can take advantage of their proximity to patients. For example, pharmacists can help promote their dental partners' outreach initiatives and treatment offerings by placing signage at their counters or by speaking to patients when opportunities arise.
With the permission of patients, dentists and pharmacists could even set up systems to share information about individuals' medical care. These systems could enable dentists to alert pharmacists when patients are overdue for a dental visit. This way, the pharmacist could talk to these patients about the necessity of making an appointment the next time that they show up to pick up their medications.
Advocating for Toothbrush Replacement
Most Americans don't replace their toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months as recommended, but this is an important aspect of oral health. Failing to do this leads to toothbrushes that are festering with bacteria. Toothbrushes are supposed to remove bacteria from teeth, not apply them to teeth. In addition, straight bristles are necessary to access hard-to-reach crevasses where bacteria reside. If a toothbrush's bristles are broken down and no longer able to properly clean teeth, then it doesn't matter if the person brushes for the full 2 minutes or not. It still won't work. Pharmacists can support dentists by raising their clients' awareness of these issues and directing them to available replacements.
Identifying Patients at Risk of Poor Oral Health
Because pharmacists have access to patients' lists of medications and are educated regarding contraindications and adverse effects, they can intervene when they see those that could have unintended effects on oral health. For example, more than 400 medications are known to cause dry mouth. By collaborating with pharmacists, dentists could help to further educate them about these potential problems, and when pharmacists see these medications in someone's file, they can ask questions, assess for any symptoms, and forestall difficulties.
Helping Patients Address Minor Problems
Pharmacists commonly assist patients with minor oral health problems. When patients visit pharmacies and complain of toothaches, pharmacists not only listen to these complaints but also counsel patients accordingly, providing advice based on medical research. They also point patients toward over-the-counter medications, mouthguards, and other products that can provide relief. By collaborating with pharmacists, dentists can improve their ability to help patients in this regard as well as educate them about when patients should be advised to seek professional dental care.
Recommending Dental Visits
For problems that appear to be more serious, collaborating pharmacists can also advise patients to visit their dentist or doctor. If an individual hasn't visited his or her dentist in years, the pharmacist can explain the importance of regular visits. If a patient doesn't have a dentist, the pharmacist can recommend the collaborating dentist and explain how to set up an appointment. Because patients often get to know their pharmacists and trust them, these recommendations tend to carry greater weight than exhortations from others.
Raising Awareness About Systemic Health
The dentist's focus on oral hygiene dovetails with the pharmacist's concerns about preventive care for diabetes and hypertension because improper oral hygiene can be a big risk factor for these and other systemic health conditions. In addition, cancer patients are at greater risk of suffering problems with their mouths, osteoporosis can weaken the jaw, and poor dental hygiene can aggravate autoimmune diseases, such as lupus. By collaborating with pharmacists, dentists can enlist their help in addressing these serious health conditions and providing patient education.
Realize the Benefits of Collaboration
For dentists who are interested in collaborating more closely with pharmacists, I recommend looking for partners in high-performing pharmacy networks in your state. The Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN USA) operates nationwide, and some statewide networks also exist, such as the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Care Network (PPCN). The pharmacists involved in those groups are independent, cutting-edge practitioners who are always looking for unique community collaborations to improve healthcare.
Both pharmacies and dental practices tend to be independent, mom-and-pop operations that rely on community support. By collaborating, dentists and pharmacists can support each other while ensuring that their patients in the community receive the highest level of care.
About the Author
Lindsay Dymowski Constantino is the co-founder and president of Centennial Pharmacy Services, a leading medication management company that provides enhanced pharmacy support.