Charitable giving is likely not the first thing that springs to mind alongside the word “McDonald’s.” And maybe that’s a bit unfair, because the Ronald McDonald House Charities have been a part of the company’s DNA since 1974.

Earlier in 2019, the McDonald’s Corporation enjoyed a fresh round of publicity for turning its Austrian franchises into extensions of the American consulate. Lost or stranded U.S. citizens can now enter any McDonald’s in Austria for help getting in touch with the U.S. embassy. It’s a distinctly American solution to a common problem, but it’s also an undeniably useful one.

Now, the McDonald’s Corporation is expanding its slate of pro-social services by helping underserved children receive dental care.

America’s Problems with Child Poverty, Explained

There isn’t any doubt that the Ronald McDonald House Charities help fill unmet needs in the world. This kind of corporate giving is surely laudable, especially given that the U.S. has an unenviable position in the world when it comes to child poverty. According to a UNICEF report ranking more than 40 of the world’s richest countries, the U.S. has rates well above average for child food insecurity, which is a key measurement of child poverty.

Only Mexico, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania have higher rates of child poverty among the nations UNICEF surveyed. And when it comes to children living in households pulling in incomes lower than 60% of the average, America places seventh among wealthy countries, with 29.4% of its children living in poverty.

The dental care gap in the United States is nearly as disappointing. In 2008, the Institute of Medicine found 4.6 million children went without needed dentistry services.

The CDC’s latest numbers indicate 20% of U.S. children ages 5 through 11 and 13% of U.S. adolescents ages 12 through 19 currently have one or more untreated decayed teeth. Moreover, the CDC finds children from lower-income households are fully twice as likely to develop cavities as children from higher-earning households.

Where Ronald McDonald Mobile Comes In

Ronald McDonald mobile care centers have been helping address unmet pediatric needs across the world for years. These 40-foot-long “mobile community medical centers” help identify and treat cases of pediatric cancer in Poland and administer immunizations in New Orleans and Thailand, among several other medical outreach missions. There are 50 mobile care units in total.

Now, residents of southern Arizona have one of their own dedicated to children’s oral health. According to Kate Jensen, current CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, some 30% of children in Cochise County alone enroll in kindergarten never having set foot inside a dentist’s office.

The Kaiser Family Foundation finds that, across the U.S., 15% of the population lives in an area without reliable access to dental professionals. Moreover, around 30% of children who receive general health coverage from their parents’ insurance plans do not have coverage for oral health.

So, even when insurance is in the picture, it very frequently fails to provide for one of the central pillars of holistic health. Most any competent health care professional can confirm that good oral health and regular visits to the dentist’s office are “essential components” to achieving and maintaining good general health.

McDonald’s and the Broken Safety Net

The Ronald McDonald Mobile Dental Care Unit began seeing new patients in Arizona in summer 2019. Medical directors in Chiricahua, Ariz., are already seeing a difference, as one of the charity’s missions in the area is to help local community health centers improve their dentistry recruitment efforts.

This development is very welcome, since even well-insured and cared-for communities labor under several persistent myths concerning children’s oral health. Improving staffing levels is vital not just for ensuring kids can receive urgent care, but also to improve communication about how to prevent and reduce such emergencies in the first place.

As we’ve seen, however, “underserved” communities in the U.S. and elsewhere face many problems apart from a lack of medical specialists. Until we can find more ways to do better, corporate giving organizations like the Ronald McDonald House will step in, and there’s no question many families in Arizona will breathe a sigh of relief now that this resource is in their lives.

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About Author

Kate Harveston covers social justice and human rights issues. She graduated with a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she enjoys writing about anything related to the intersections of law, politics and culture. For more of her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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