Dental care: pharmacist or dentist?


When it comes to looking after your teeth and gums, regular trips to the dentist are essential. If you're experiencing any pain, it's important that you see your dentist so they can quickly figure out and deal with the cause. This can not only ease your discomfort, but prevent more serious issues from occurring.

How can a pharmacist help?

A pharmacist can give advice and, where appropriate, recommend products that can help with some minor dental problems and with the maintenance of your oral health. A pharmacy provides a wide range of different dental products and can advise you on:


It is usually recommended to use a toothbrush with a small head so you can reach all the surfaces of your teeth easily. Most dental professionals agree that a medium or soft-bristled brush is best for removing plaque and debris from your teeth and along the gum line. Some people prefer to use an electric toothbrush. These usually have heads that either rotate or pulsate. Talk to your pharmacist about the different options and what might work best for you.


Most dentists recommend using a fluoride toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay.

Some toothpastes are designed for specific purposes. You can get toothpastes suited for:

• Sensitive teeth - with 'desensitising' agents to help reduce the pain of sensitive teeth

• Whitening - to help remove staining

• Total care - an effective all-round toothpaste that often contains anti-bacterial ingredients, fluoride and flavours to help keep breath fresh

Discuss your needs with your pharmacist, who will be able to recommend the most appropriate products.


Dentists often recommend using a mouthwash as part of a daily oral health routine. They may contain an anti-bacterial agent to help reduce plaque and help protect the gum. They may also contain fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. Mouthwashes can also help freshen the breath and wash away trapped food. Some mouthwashes contain alcohol to help with cleansing and to improve the taste. These aren't recommended for children. Talk to your pharmacist for advice about the different types available.

Floss, dental tape

This is a type of dental string or tape that can be used with various different techniques to provide a deeper clean of your mouth than brushing can alone. It is often used to remove bits caught between the teeth that can often be missed when brushing. It can also help to remove sticky bacteria from the gap between the gum and tooth, and to remove plaque from the surface of the tooth. Floss sticks are another option. These have a small amount of floss attached to a handle, which can make the floss easier to use. All the different types are available at your pharmacy.

Interdental brushes

These are individual little brushes designed to clean between the teeth as an alternative to floss or dental tape. They come in different sizes and have long or short handles for easier use. Talk to your dentist if you're unsure which size is most suitable for you.

Disclosing tablets

Often used by dentists during an appointment, these can highlight areas of the mouth where debris and plaque may still remain after brushing the teeth. The coloured tablet dissolves in the mouth and dyes any plaque that hasn't been removed so it's easier to spot. The dye is easily removed afterwards by normal brushing. These tablets can be helpful to use at home to show any places that you are missing when brushing.

Common tooth problems

There are some dental problems that your pharmacist can help with, such as:


There can be numerous reasons for toothache. Some, such as a cavity or a lost crown or filling, can ultimately only be treated by a trip to your dentist. However, a pharmacist can help in the short term with pain relief. If the pain is triggered by eating hot/cold or acidic food, for example, a toothpaste for sensitive teeth could ease the pain temporarily. A dull ache could be linked to a tooth or gum infection and could be relieved by painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. This offers a short-term solution before a dental appointment can be arranged.

Mouth ulcers

A mouthwash or topical gel, available from a pharmacy, can help treat and ease the pain of a mouth ulcer. However, if you're unwell and unable to eat or drink, if you've had an ulcer for three weeks or more or you have an ulcer that keeps coming back, you should see your dentist or GP.


A child begins to get their first teeth anywhere between the age of three months to a year old. To help soothe any discomfort, teething granules or liquid paracetamol or ibuprofen can all be found at your pharmacy.

Bleeding and swollen gums

You should visit your dentist if you notice that your gums are red or swollen. Mild cases of gum disease can be treated by maintaining good oral hygiene, including regularly cleaning and flossing the teeth. On the other hand, bleeding gums can sometimes be a sign of other health problems. It's best to contact your dentist as soon as you notice your gums are bleeding or swollen, as they will be able to diagnose the cause and recommend the most suitable treatment for you. See your dentist regularly Whether you're experiencing problems or not, visiting your dentist for a check-up regularly is essential for your oral health. Your dentist will recommend how often you should visit them, depending on your oral health. This could vary from once every three months to once every 12 or 24 months – your dentist will be able to advise you.  It's important to be checked for problems such as cavities, gum disease, abscesses, or bite problems. If dealt with early, these issues can be treated before they develop into something more serious. A dentist can also professionally clean any build-up of plaque and tartar (which can lead to cavities) and help you work on your brushing technique to prevent this from happening in the future. If you're worried about any dental symptoms at all, always see your dentist.

In case of emergency

Ring your dentist and see if they can offer you an appointment at short notice.

Only go to hospital for dental issues if the problem is serious and you're experiencing:

• Severe pain

• Heavy bleeding

• Injuries to the face, mouth or teeth