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Ronald McDonald Care Mobile hits the road to bring dental care to kids in need

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile was parked outside of the State House for a few hours yesterday afternoon as part of a dedication event.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile was parked outside of the State House for a few hours yesterday afternoon as part of a dedication event.

Inside, there are two exam rooms complete with X-ray equipment, light-blue reclining chairs, sinks, brochures about oral health – many of the things you’d expect to find on any other trip to the dentist.

But from the outside, this clinic looks more like a U-Haul than your average dentist’s office.

The state’s first Ronald McDonald Care Mobile debuted a few months ago in an effort to bring free dental care to kids at schools and elsewhere. Yesterday, it parked for a few hours outside the State House for a dedication ceremony attended by Gov. Maggie Hassan, among others.

Saving People’s Smiles, a Concord-based community dental clinic, provides the dental care for the New Hampshire vehicle. Earle Simpson, who founded the clinic after two decades in private practice dentistry, said the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile attempts to tackle a major obstacle in pediatric oral health: How do you make sure kids get regular dental care, particularly if transportation or cost is an issue?

The best way to do that, Simpson said, is to bring the care to them.

“We’re not out to step on anyone’s toes, just to go where the need is,” Simpson said, acknowledging that several other mobile dentistry units already provide similar exam services in New Hampshire.

Unlike other mobile dentistry units that might only perform exams, Simpson said, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is a fully functional dentist’s office on wheels – so it can fix, not just identify, children’s dental problems.

The vehicle should make the rounds at participating schools once or twice a year, Simpson said, but kids who attend the clinic – or their families – can also receive follow-up care at Saving People’s Smiles.

Simpson and others affiliated with the program hope it helps to give kids a “dental home.” When kids don’t receive regular oral health checkups, he said, they’re more at risk for other health problems.

“A lot of parents don’t seek dental care because they didn’t have it,” Simpson said, emphasizing the role that outreach initiatives play in establishing those habits.

In its first few months of operation, the New Hampshire vehicle has seen about 100 kids at nine schools in Hillsboro, Franklin and elsewhere. The dates and locations of future stops are still being finalized, but visits to Concord-area McDonald’s restaurants are planned for early August.

The charity’s two other mobile dental units in Rhode Island and Massachusetts serve about 3,800 kids each year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern New England Executive Director Karen McEachern said. Paula Wright, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern New England board president and a local McDonald’s owner/operator, said the state’s franchise owners alerted the charity to a need for the vehicle in the Granite State.

The vehicle cost about half a million dollars, McEachern said, supported in part by Stonemakers Corporation and The Rowley Agency.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile team relies on school nurses and other officials to help identify students who might be in need of dental care, to determine whether students might be eligible for the services and to arrange district visits. The clinic is open to those between the ages of 3 and 21 who don’t have a regular dentist – including children who are covered through Medicaid – and those who don’t have dental insurance.

Hassan, at the dedication ceremony, said “oral health for our kids is one of our most glaring needs” in New Hampshire. (She also has a personal connection to the cause, thanks to a past stint as a dental assistant.)

“Oral health is increasingly important,” Hassan said after a brief tour of the vehicle, “not only for people’s confidence and self-esteem, but also for long-term health.”

Those interested in arranging a local visit from the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile can call 219-0770 or email sps@savingpeoplessmiles.org.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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