February 2017

Children’s Dentistry Seaside: Working Miracles in Children’s Mouths

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

A soft, fuzzy toy to hold makes the dentist less scary. Dr. Morse takes time to get to know the family.

Combine the precision of an engineer with the creativity of an artist; add the insight of a psychologist and the heart of a doting dad, and what do you get? Quite possibly, a pediatric dentist. For Dr. Thomas H. Morse, DDS of Children’s Dentistry Seaside on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort, the path to pediatric dentistry was a natural outgrowth of his interests, talents, experiences and personality traits.

“I always enjoyed working with my hands—solving problems, building things, making things. A lot of dentistry is being creative like that, and there is a lot of art in dentistry. You have to rebuild something that has to have a certain shape and a certain strength, and then you have to match it with the person. It’s fun to work with a challenge of that type,” he said.

Morse remembers his childhood dentist as a gentle and kind man but said that working alongside his dad in his veterinary practice was most influential in helping him develop compassion for children. “I helped him working with animals. They couldn’t communicate, and they were fearful at times, too. I developed a lot of empathy helping animals that couldn’t help themselves.”

Chasing Away Monsters
One of Morse’s primary missions is to stop the fear. “With kids, you can shape, change and improve their attitudes,” he said. “By teaching them not to be afraid of the dentistry, you are setting them up for a lifetime of healthy oral condition and to get the work and preventative care they need.”

Children’s Dentistry Seaside is not a scary place. Everything from the color scheme in the waiting room to the staff’s attire and the language used is intentional, creating a calm environment where children and their parents are treated with the utmost kindness and respect.

“We’re not only addressing the condition of the teeth, we are taking a look at the total psychological feeling the child is having,” Morse said. “A lot of the kids who have been to a pediatrician have preconceived ideas about the doctor environment. We have to teach them that this is a tooth place, which changes their perception.”

A beautiful smile in the making.
Going to the dentist is fun!

Morse makes communication a foundation of his practice, scheduling in such a way that he has ample time to interact with the child, get to know the parents and answer their questions. He also understands that words have great power, using them strategically to put kids at ease. At Children’s Dentistry Seaside, you will never hear the words shot or drill. “We talk to the kids continuously about things they are interested in—bombard them with verbal stimuli—that’s called distraction,” he said. “We never surprise the kids or lie to them. We try to minimize every discomfort and not make them fearful by waving instruments around in front of them. We also put a fuzzy teddy bear in their hands. This changes their tactical senses to something soft and comfortable.”

While all pediatric dentists are trained to manage children’s behavior, Morse has the advantage of more than 35 years of practice. “They can teach you so much in school, but I’m much more at ease and know many more techniques than I did when I graduated,” he said. “We’ve developed a lot of this through years of experience—knowing what works and what doesn’t work.”

Nitrous oxide is used when needed. “It puts the kids in a happy state and masks little pain impulses,” Morse explained. “If we do need to use a shot, we deliver it in such a way that the kids never see it. We tell them we are going to put some ‘sleepy juice’ beside the tooth. Prior to doing that, we put some jelly over the site that profoundly numbs the entry point. If you inject very slowly and distract the child, they never feel it.”

Healthy teeth start with regular cleanings and check-ups.

Morse advises parents not to tell kids what is going to happen, because he can explain it in a non-threatening way. For a tooth extraction, Morse might say, “The tooth is sick and needs to go to the Tooth Fairy. We’re going to let you have a Mickey Mouse nose to wear [the delivery method for nitrous oxide] and make your tooth feel kind of tickly. We’re going to wiggle it, and if it is too tight, we will leave it there. But if it’s really loose, it will jump out like a grasshopper.”

Why Choose A Pediatric Dentist?
Pediatric dentistry is a specialty requiring an additional two years of training beyond the doctoral degree for general dentistry, as well as annual continuing education. In addition to four years of dental school at Indiana University, Morse completed a two-year pediatric dental residency at Reilly Children’s Hospital/Indiana University School of Dentistry.

“The two-year programs follow American Dental Association guidelines and include training and course work in areas such as child psychology and child oral trauma. We are educated in the ways that various treatment issues, such as anesthesia and orthodontics, specifically affect children,” Morse explained.

“You have to decide with kids what type restoration is best suited for them based on which tooth it is and how long it’s going to be in the mouth—because 20 of the baby teeth are going to be gone by the time the child is 12 years old. You have to work with the parameters of how long it’s going to last and if it’s going to be strong enough.”

Appearances matter, too, along with function, of course. “Missing a tooth affects appearance as well as speech development. Other kids may also tease a child with a missing tooth or dark tooth,” Morse said.

Prevention is front and center at Children’s Dentistry Seaside. “We talk about trauma and simple things parents can look for at home,” Morse said. “If a tooth turns dark, that tooth is on the pathway to an abscess. We can intercept that. We encourage parents to look at a child’s teeth once a week. If one is turning gray or dark, we need to see it.”

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends every child’s first dental visit at age one, with checkups every six months thereafter. “Statistically, 50 percent of three-year-olds have one cavity or more,” Morse said. “If we see them at age one, we can talk to the parents about how to prevent decay—including prescription-strength fluoride applications, what to look for in the mouth, if there is something beginning to become a problem, and what to do in case of emergencies.”

Prior to earning her accounting degree, Morse’s wife Dinah, who now keeps the books and helps with many other aspects of the practice, was a dental assistant. “I still keep my accreditation. I like working with the little bitty babies, because I’ve got that grandma thing going on,” she said. “Nobody’s grandma hurts them…I work for hugs!” Tom and Dinah Morse have been married 39 years. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Possessing the knowledge, technical skill and experience to work miracles in children’s mouths, like the Pied Piper of pediatric dentistry, Morse’s magnetic personality mesmerizes his patients. In fact, he has a way of engaging children that makes them want to come back to see him again and again—a claim not many dentists can make.

Children’s Dentistry Seaside offers dental services for children and teens at two locations: 21 Mathews Drive, Suite 1 on Hilton Head Island and 960 Ribaut Rd., Suite 3 in Beaufort.

For more, visit seasidechildrensdentistry.com. Call (843) 681-4900 for appointments on Hilton Head Island or (843) 525-6930 to be seen at the Beaufort office. Emergency calls are answered 24/7 and Saturday appointments are available. Se hablas español.

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