Management of oral ulcers and oral thrush by Community Pharmacists.
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Oral ulcers and oral thrush could be indicative of serious illnesses such as oral cancer, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), among others. There are many different health care workers that can be approached for advice and/or treatment for oral ulcers and oral thrush (sometimes referred to as mouth sores by patients), including pharmacists. In fact, the mild and intermittent nature of oral ulcers and oral thrush may most likely lead the patient to present to a pharmacist for immediate treatment. In addition, certain aspects of access are exempt at a pharmacy such as long queues and waiting times, the need to make an appointment and the cost for consultation. Thus pharmacies may serve as a reservoir of undetected cases of oral cancer, HIV and other STIs. Aim: To determine how community pharmacists in the Western Cape manage oral ulcers and oral thrush. Objectives: The data set included the prevalence of oral complaints confronted by pharmacists, how they manage oral ulcers, oral thrush and mouth sores, their knowledge about these conditions, and the influence of socio-economic status (SES) and metropolitan location (metro or non-metro) on recognition and management of the lesions. Method: A cross-sectional survey of community pharmacists in the Western Cape was conducted. A random sample of pharmacies was stratified by SES (high and low), and metropolitan location. A structured questionnaire was used to conduct a telephonic interview. The questionnaire was faxed to pharmacists 24 hours prior to the interview. Pharmacists were also telephoned 24 hours prior to the interview, but after the questionnaire was faxed, in order to gain informed consent for participation in the study, and to confirm a convenient time to conduct the interview. Results: Two thirds (63%) of pharmacists managed oral problems nearly everyday, and 30% managed these more than once a week. More pharmacists in high SES (73%) areas managed oral problems nearly everyday (Fisher Exact, p=0.0005). Just over half (56%) and 49.2% of pharmacists said that ulcers and thrush, respectively, was the most common oral problem that they encounter. The prevalence of oral thrush was significantly higher in non-metro areas (58%) (RR=0.7 (0.5-1.0) ChiSquared=4.0, p=0.04), and it was also significantly lower in low SES areas (RR=1.6 (1.1-2.4), Chi Squared=6.5, p=0.01). Half the pharmacists reported that they would manage the patient comprehensively. Most would take a history but the quality of the history is poor, thereby compromising their ability to manage these cases appropriately. Only a third would refer a simple oral ulcer, thrush or mouth sore to a doctor/dentist but all pharmacists would have referred a longstanding ulcer to a doctor/dentist. In terms of knowledge, only 33% of pharmacists were aware that oral ulcers and thrush could be indicative of HIV infection, and only 8% linked oral ulcers with oral cancer. There was no discernable pattern of management of oral ulcers and thrush, or of knowledge of the link between these lesions with underlying diseases, by SES and metropolitan locations (Chi Squared, Fisher Exact, p>0.05). Conclusion: The result of this study strengthens the current view of pharmacists as oral health advisors as they encounter oral problems regularly, most commonly oral ulcers and oral thrush. Therefore, the pharmacist can play an important role in the early detection of HIV and oral cancer. However many pharmacists fail to refer these cases to a dentist. Most pharmacists lacked specific knowledge about the relationship of oral ulcers and thrush with underlying conditions, which may explain why many pharmacists are not managing these cases correctly. There is a definite need to train pharmacists at both an under- and post-graduate level with specific emphasis on the proper management of oral ulcers, oral thrush and mouth sores, as well as comprehensive training that outlines why vigilant management of oral ulcers and oral thrush is necessary.