February 2016

Children's Dentistry:More fun, less fear

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by John Brackett

Nothing is sweeter or more heartwarming than the deep down, from your toes, smile of a child. It reveals itself right there in their eyes: the glint of genuine delight, happiness, contentment, or satisfaction. It may come with a wrinkled up tiny nose, a giggle, or a belly laugh, and it may be gummy and toothless, partially toothed, with crooked incisors, clad in braces, or with a complete set of pearly whites. What never varies is that every last one of these smiles is perfection, pure and simple.

At Dr. Thomas Morse’s Children’s Dentistry, the treatment of pediatric dental patients is pure and simple, where the doctor and his team not only work to treat, repair, and maintain heathy smiles, but strive to keep a child’s visit to the dentist as pain-free, stress-free, and non-invasive as is possible. “Our job is to not only provide dentistry and restore teeth and restore health, but to preserve the psyche of the child,” Morse said. Much of that comes from some very intentional aspects of his practice.

Visits to Children’s Dentistry begin with simply getting to know each other and educating the parents and the children so they know what to expect. “New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics is age one for first contact with the dentist,” Morse said. “We do that because, statistically, 50 percent of all three-year-olds already have one cavity or more. We want to get the parents interested in early prevention. We bring the kids in with the parent right beside them. The first visit, nothing hurts. We do a tour around the mouth and show the parents all the different parts of the anatomy. We talk about parts that can be hurt or broken.”

Educating the parents and children about how healthy diets promote strong teeth and gums is particularly important. “We consume about twice as much sugar as our grandparents. We counsel parents about what foods and drinks are proper and that do not promote decay. There’s sugar in just about everything,” Morse said. Plain water is the recommended beverage for hydration between meals and snacks. Protecting the baby teeth helps them guide in developing adult teeth. Even baby teeth may experience decay that could impact the long-term health of the mouth.

For all visits, Morse’s team has an arsenal of time-tested practices that help put the child at ease. “We never say the word drill and we never say the word shot; and they never see them. We talk about sleepy juice and whistle brushes, tickle brushes, Slurpee straws, tooth pillows, tooth raincoats, tooth vitamins, Mickey Mouse nose, and circus air. We go through lots of show-and-tell, letting them touch, feel, hear, and taste everything we use before we use it,” Morse said. Every child has the option to hold one of the resident stuffed animals for comfort during treatment and receives a pair of sunglasses to shade their eyes from the “sunshine light.”

On a daily basis, Morse and his staff go the extra mile to do all they can to make a child comfortable. Ask any team member how to say “tooth pillow” in Russian, and they will respond, zup padushka—the English phonetic, but still recognizable Russian version of the dental term used daily with children at the practice. A child-friendly, Russian list of terms and words has been learned by the team, and is used to communicate with one small patient who started out more than a little scared and unable to communicate his feelings other than with tears; now he is happy and eager to visit Dr. Morse and is learning some English as well.

Distraction in the form of lots of conversation goes on throughout a child’s visit. “We talk about the things they’re interested in: sports, toys, games, TV, movies, which requires that we keep up with the latest,” Morse said. “May the floss be with you,” is Morse’s latest witticism inspired by the current Star Wars phenomenon. “Creating a warm, fuzzy, happy, comfortable, environment and talking about their interests helps establish loyalty and trust. We always go at the speed the child is comfortable with, and they are never left alone,” he said.

“There’s a big movement in dentistry to sedate everyone, including kids,” Morse said. “If you sedate them, they’re always going to come out of sedation and have the same anxiety they had when they went in. You didn’t treat the anxiety; you just prolonged it and put it off. We do a lot of work educating the kids on how to accept dentistry and making sure they’re not hurt. We sedate very few patients.”

Each visit ends with a prize, or two, and a goodie bag. “When they come in, they get a little goodie bag.
They get their choice of color for their toothbrush; some even have soccer balls or fish on them. We have bubble gum and mint toothpaste, and we have pre-threaded flossers,” Morse said. He also likes to emphasize that brushing and flossing go hand-in-hand, and that it has to be done. “If they’re doing a super job brushing but they’re still not flossing, they’re still going to get decay between the teeth. Establish the habit early.”

Caring for infants, children, and teens since 1982, Morse knew from the time of his Indiana University dental school residency in the late 1970s that he wanted to treat children. He met his wife Dinah when they were both in school. A certified dental hygienist with Children’s Dentistry, their chief business officer, and chief assistant to Morse, together they have grown their practice into a place of trust and comfort, where children look forward to seeing the dentist. Ready to add the right dentist to their practice, Morse is actively looking for someone with just the right fit to share the work and the fun.

Rather a big kid himself, Morse gets a great deal of joy out of every day. “I will not stop practicing; I will just slow down. It’s too much fun. Kids keep me young, and you’re always hearing about the best movies.”

Children’s Dentistry has two locations: 21 Mathews Drive, Suite 1, Hilton Head Island and 960 Ribaut Road, Suite 3, Beaufort. For more information, please call (843) 681-4900 or visit seasidechildrensdentistry.com.

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