Rural pharmacies and oral health in Tasmania

Ms Stephanie Dunbar1, Dr Ha Hoang1, Dr Tony  Barnett2, Mr Mark Kirschbaum2

1Centre for Rural Health, University Of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia, 2School of Health Sciences, University of Tasmania, Launceston , Australia


People living in rural and remote areas of Australia have poorer oral health and less access to oral health services than those in metropolitan areas. In the absence of a resident dentist, rural dwellers often present to non-dental primary care providers (e.g. pharmacists) with oral health problems. This study aimed to investigate the views and experiences of rural pharmacists in providing oral health advice/treatment.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted 20 pharmacists and 1 assistant in rural Tasmania. Data was analysed in Nvivo 10 using thematic analysis.


Pharmacists reported that they had 9 to 10 visits per week, for oral health problems. The oral health presentations to the pharmacists included toothache, abscesses, oral thrush, mouth ulcers and dry mouth.  Some respondents reported no confidence around providing oral health care while others were very confident. Barriers for patients to access dental services included cost of care, financial capacity, long waitlists, and distances to services, value of good dental health and fear of dentists.  Most pharmacies identified that they had a close relationship with at least one doctor in the area, but not with local dental services. The participants described their roles in oral health care in terms of health promotion, referring, and advice. Participants also commented on the key role of pharmacy assistants in oral health. Overall, responses suggested low coverage of oral health in pharmacy training.


There is a need to build collaborations between rural pharmacists and dentists in order to provide better oral health services for rural communities. Oral health training for rural pharmacists would be best if it were offered online and counted towards continuous professional development (CPD). Suggested strategies for overcoming patients’ barriers in oral health are: education to rural residents, free dental care, having a local dentist and increased access to public dental health.


Stephanie Dunbar is an Allied Health Research Practitioner working with the Centre for Rural Health at the University of Tasmania. She is a registered psychologist, who also works in private practice. With a background in mixed methods research, Stephanie worked for the Queensland University of Technology for 6 years in research roles, before moving to Tasmania. She is passionate about improving mental and physical health through research.

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