As part of this year’s National Smile Month, the Oral Health Foundation is urging workplaces and employees to prioritise their oral health. A survey by the charity has revealed that oral health problems such as toothache are costing the UK economy more than £105 million each year in sick days. About one in 20 working Brits has been forced to take time off work in the past year due to problems with their mouth, teeth or gums.
The charity is using this year’s campaign to challenge businesses around the UK to take more of an interest in their employees’ oral health at work and at home.
Pharmacies are well placed to take advantage of this year’s campaign by promoting oral health to their customers. However, with space in a community pharmacy at a premium, it can be a challenge to compete with the extensive supermarket shelves when it comes to merchandising oral care products.
So how can pharmacists build on their USP – providing one-to-one advice and dealing with customers’ specific health needs – while making the most of their available space?
A customer may come into a pharmacy to buy routine oral care products for a common dental problem – with counter staff on the frontline, referring customers to the pharmacist as required. However, not all cases are as straightforward as they initially seem. By checking medical history, and even lifestyle habits, the pharmacy team can build a bigger picture of a customer’s overall health, so they are in the best position to offer advice.
“The pharmacist should take the time to find out the precise symptoms that their customers have,” says Karen Coates, dental health advisor at the Oral Health Foundation. “For example, if a customer is experiencing toothache or pain, pharmacists could give advice on painkillers to help ease their pain. Although they may not be able to advise on specific oral health problems, they can help a customer to alleviate symptoms before they seek help from a dentist. The pharmacist can ask about the customer’s medical history and any other related conditions, such as diabetes, which may be contributing to oral health issues and offer advice based on the wider picture.” It is also important to be aware of any potential side effects of medication the customer is taking, she suggests, and how this can affect them from an oral health perspective, for example, the potential for dry mouth with some tricyclic antidepressants and some anti-psychotic drugs.
Displaying posters in the pharmacy is an easy way to get customers to acknowledge and think about their oral health. However, some pharmacy customers will need more advice than others, and on a regular basis, which will encourage repeat purchases.
“People who suffer from diabetes are more likely to develop gum disease, so it is especially important for them to be advised to take better care of their oral health, and pregnant women may find that their gums bleed more easily, due to hormonal changes,” comments Ms Coates. Remind women that they receive free dental care during their pregnancy and until the child reaches their first birthday.
The biggest issue in oral health, of course, is sugar – how often it’s consumed in food and drink in the daily diet – as excessive amounts contribute to tooth decay. In March 2017, statistics from the Faculty of Dental Surgery revealed that tooth extractions in children aged four and under have increased by 24 per cent
in the past decade.
Smoking is another big oral care issue that pharmacies can help address. “Most people are now aware of the dangers of smoking to their health, but still overlook the impact it has on their mouth,” says Ms Coates. “Smoking produces more bacterial plaque, which is a key cause of gum disease. It can also mask gum disease because the gums are less likely to bleed, so the patient does not recognise that there may be a problem. Smoking is also the biggest cause of oral cancer, which claims thousands of lives every year in Britain. Encouraging customers to quit smoking is the best way to try reduce their risk.”
Ms Coates suggests that the pharmacy team is in contact with local dentists to find out which oral care products they should stock, as well as evaluating the needs of the customer base within their community.
“Stocking generic products that can be used by the majority of customers at a reasonable cost is an option and will allow them to cater to a wide audience,” she says.
Some pharmacy customers may need advice at point of sale, rather than being left to choose products from the shelf. A GSK spokesperson says that many shoppers aren’t actively addressing their oral health issues, despite being aware of their needs. This may be down to two key engagement barriers when shopping the oral health fixture. First, product overload, as the category is relatively large and it isn’t easy to differentiate the various products and packaging, and second, cluttered fixtures that are often chaotic and confusing, making it difficult for customers to choose from the products available.
According to a Euromonitor report from 2016, the oral care category is still seeing steady growth, as many consumers continue to trade up to products such as electric toothbrushes. But GSK suggests there is often little in the oral health fixture to attract the customer’s attention and encourage them to explore products beyond those they normally buy.
Consider these merchandising tips to make the category more eye-catching and to encourage link sales:
Mejebi Eyewuoma, Abbotswood Pharmacy, Yate “As a Healthy Living Pharmacy, our team members have been trained in health promotion as it relates to oral health – to help deal with problems such as cavities, gum disease, bad breath, burning mouth, mouth sores, cold sores, dry mouth, oral candidiasis and oral cancer. While good oral health is more than just having white teeth, we have seen a surge in people requesting teeth whitening products and toothpaste and we try to link requests for teeth whitening products from those who smoke to the stop smoking service. Generally, we reiterate the importance of brushing the teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, regular check ups with the dentist and compliance with their recommendations.”
Jess Williams, Kellaway Pharmacy Bristol “For National Smile Month we have highlighted three messages: 1. Brush teeth last thing at night and on at least one other occasion with a fluoride toothpaste; 2. Cut down on sugary foods and drinks, and 3. Visit the dentist as often as they recommend. We ensure that our pharmacy team is trained adequately to advise and recommend suitable products in various oral conditions, such as enamel erosion, halitosis, gingivitis, sensitivity and teeth whitening. There is now an impressive variety of whitening gels and strips on the market, as well as whitening toothpastes, gums and mouthwashes, but whitening doesn’t suit everyone. People should check with their pharmacist or dentist before paying for a promising-looking product.”
Bina Patel, Kalson’s Chemists, Westcliff-on-sea “The key thing we do in this category is to support the dentist in prevention of tooth decay and gum disease. Many people with diabetes and women who are menopausal present with gum disease. When I do an MUR with someone with diabetes I usually check that they are seeing the optician, the dentist and the chiropodist, to keep an eye on potential problems. We also help manage dental problems – toothache, gum disease, and so on. If someone has, say, an abscess, I’ll write a prescription for antibiotics until they can see a dentist. However, we don’t sell a lot of toothpastes and toothbrushes, as these sales mostly go to the supermarkets or are given to people by the dentist.”