London children visiting pharmacists for oral pain

London children visiting pharmacists for oral pain

Thousands of London children with oral pain are being taken by parents to pharmacies and non-dental health services, including A&E, instead of their dentist, and could be costing NHS England £2.3 million a year, according to research led by Queen Mary University of London.

The study of more than half of all of the pharmacies in London and nearly 7,000 parents finds that most pharmacy visits for children’s pain medications in London are to treat oral pain.

Lead researcher Dr Vanessa Muirhead  said: “The fact that only 30 per cent of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before going to a pharmacy highlights a concerning underuse of dental services. Children with oral pain need to see a dentist for a definitive diagnosis and to treat any tooth decay. Not treating a decayed tooth can result in more pain, abscesses and possible damage to children’s permanent teeth.

“These children had not only failed to see a dentist before their pharmacy visit; they had seen GPs and a range of other health professionals outside dentistry. This inappropriate and overuse of multiple health services including A&E is costing the NHS a substantial amount of money at a time when reducing waste is a government priority.”

In this latest study, published in BMJ Open, 951 pharmacies collected information from 6,915 parents seeking pain medications for their children in November 2016 - January 2017, and found that:

  • Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of parents seeking pain medications for their children were doing so to relieve their children’s oral pain.
  • Only 30 per cent of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before the pharmacy visit while 28 per cent had seen between one and four different health professionals (including GPs, health visitors, school nurses and A&E departments - GPs being the most common).
  • Nearly one in ten children had signs and symptoms indicating a dental emergency and community pharmacy staff signposted them to emergency services.
  • The cost to the NHS of children contacting health professionals outside dentistry over the period was £36,573 (an annual cost of £373,288). Replicating these findings across all pharmacies in England could mean that the NHS spends an estimated £2.3 million annually when children with oral pain inappropriately use multiple health services.
  • 41 per cent of the children had toothache; 20 per cent had pain from a newly erupting tooth and 15 per cent had a painful mouth ulcer.
  • Saturdays and Sundays were the peak days for parents to visit pharmacies for pain medication for children’s oral pain. This could partly explain why some parents had not seen a dentist due to limited urgent dental care services over the weekend.
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Marian Greally
London children visting pharmacists for oral pain
As a dental-care educator and provider or early years gum & toothcare products, we're saddened to see these figures.

Children up to the age of 5 are 'falling through the gap'. Health professionals and parents alike are unsure of when they should take a child to the dentist.

The excellent BSPD Dental Check by One campaign is seeking to address this.

Brush-Baby promote the importance of looking after a child's oral welfare from the day that it's born and advocate looking after gums and teeth as soon as possible.

We're trying to get the message out there and our information and products are available in a retail setting but still need the support of dental professionals and a change in the mindset or parents and professionals that 'baby teeth do matter'. Look after them now and they will look after you!

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