January 2012

January 2012: Charity Corner - Happy Mouths: Ronald McDonald Care Mobile providing access to Dental Care

Author: Debbie Szpanka

A clown known for its big, red, goofy shoes is laying out the welcome mat for local children to jump aboard the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile® as it brings dental care and oral health education to preschool and elementary schools in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton Counties. It’s the little-known service that the charity brings to local children so their dental health stays in good shape and doesn’t lead to other health care issues.

“A child’s oral health is an important factor in their overall health,” Nikole Layton, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC) of the Coastal Empire, said. “If a child doesn’t know how to practice good oral hygiene and keep his or her mouth healthy, it can greatly affect their future health.” Over time, untreated dental issues lead to periodontal or gum disease and that can lead to cardiovascular issues, diabetes and other severe health ailments, Layton explained.

Since 2001, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile has been visiting schools in Beaufort County, South Carolina to improve the oral health of underserved children in public elementary schools, including preschools and children of migrant workers on St. Helena Island. The 40-foot-long mobile unit is equipped with a two dental operatories and is staffed by an administrator and two dental hygienists who regularly provide thousands of dental care kits to the children who visit the Care Mobile.

“School officials have told us they have seen a decrease in absenteeism since the Care Mobile has visited schools in Beaufort County,” Layton said. “Many would be shocked and surprised at how many of our children in this community have never used or do not regularly use a toothbrush. This not only leads to health issues, but it can also affect self-esteem.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire recently partnered with Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services to expand its services to the children of Jasper and Hampton Counties. “We work with the schools to identify the children who may need us the most,” Layton said. “We primarily target children who are eligible for free or the reduced lunch program, but no child with a dental need is turned away.” The Care Mobile unit serves approximately 1,600 children each year.

“Some of these children have never been to a dentist in their lives, “Layton said.” The Care Mobile is a core program of RMHC and a unique way to transcend the barriers many parents face when seeking dental health care for their children, including transportation and financial resources. We bring the Care Mobile to the schools, and there is no direct cost to the children or their families for our services.”

The mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire is to create, find and support programs that directly enhance the health and well-being of children and families. That mission comes to life everyday through the services RMHC provides to families with its Care Mobile unit as well as the Ronald McDonald House® and the Ronald McDonald Family Room®.

The Ronald McDonald House, located on the campus of Memorial Medical University Center in Savannah, opened in 1987. The House is a home away from home for families with critically ill or injured children receiving treatment in area hospitals. Families who live more than 30 miles out of Savannah are welcome to stay at the House and are provided the comforts of home such as a bedroom, home-cooked meals and a place to rest, relax and recover from the stresses of caring for a critically ill or injured child.

RMHC also has a Family Room at St Joseph’s/Candler Hospital and will open another Family Room in Memorial Hospital next year. These rooms, located within the hospitals, provide families with a respite from the hospital environment. Families can do laundry, rest, check e-mail, have a meal and watch television.

“We know children heal better and faster when their families are near,” Layton said. “At RMHC, we strive to provide basic human services when families need them most. Whether those problems involve how to stay near and support a hospitalized child, how to afford staying together in another city while a child is undergoing treatment, or even getting basic medical and dental care in a vulnerable community, we provide families stability and resources so they can keep their child healthy and happy.”

Are only partly funded through McDonald’s restaurants. As with most non-profits, the majority of funding is derived through private donations, and local residents serve as volunteers. For more information, contact RMHC at 912-350-RMH1 (7641) or visit rmhc.org.

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