SPECIAL NEEDS DENTISTRY
Katie Matthews, DMD//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Katie Matthews, DMD
Katie Matthews is a pediatric dentist with Matthews Dental Associates in Hockessin.
Caring for children always came naturally to Katie Matthews. Growing up in Hamilton Square, N.J., she frequently looked after her two sisters, one of whom is 10 years younger. Her mother was an elementary school teacher, which also influenced an interest in kids.
Today, Matthews is a pediatric dentist with Matthews Dental Associates. The practice is a family affair. It also includes her husband, Dr. Daniel Matthews; her father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Matthews; and her brother-in-law, Dr. Brian Matthews.
Katie Matthews, a graduate of Villanova University and Temple University School of Dentistry, has a large number of patients with special needs, an area that she first found gratifying during her postgraduate residency in pediatrics at Temple University Hospital. “It was like a calling,” she says.
These patients include children with ADHD and autism, as well as cerebral palsy and other medical conditions. An approach that might be effective with one child is not necessarily effective with another—even if they share the same diagnosis.
“We have to work with each family to find out what is best for their child,” she says. “We want to have a successful experience not just for the patient but also for the family. It takes a huge weight off of the family when they can find basic care in an office and not through extensive medical measures.”
Some parents or caregivers transfer a special needs child to a general dentist when the patient becomes an adult. Others, including some patients with Down syndrome, stay with Matthews’ practice well into their 20s. It’s up to the individual and the family, she says.
She encourages all parents to take their children to the dentist by age 1 per the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s recommendations. During this visit, parents will learn about nutrition and oral hygiene. (Many parents don’t realize that brushing begins when the first tooth appears.) She sees a number of 2- and 3-year-old children with cavities, pain and infections, all of which could have been prevented if the parents took the child to the dentist earlier.
Matthews and her husband have three children ages 8, 6 and 3. “Organized chaos,” she says jokingly. She and her husband often work at different times to help manage the family’s busy schedule. In addition to running her practice, she is on the staff of Christiana Care Health System, where she provides surgical care and teaches residents how to care for children. “I’m blessed and feel lucky to say that I really love what I do,” she says.
ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL SURGERY
Douglas Ditty, DDS//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Douglas Ditty, DDS
Douglas Ditty is a surgeon with First State Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery in Dover.
For Douglas Ditty, oral and maxillofacial surgery is the best of two worlds. “It’s a bridge between medicine and dentistry,” he says.
Ditty earned his degree from the dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned a medical degree. In addition to his residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery, he was a second-year anesthesia resident.
The University of Pennsylvania also changed his life in another significant way—it’s where he met his wife-to-be, Jamie Ahl, now an orthodontist.
Originally from Northampton, Pa., in the Lehigh Valley, Ditty worked in construction as a teen, but like many people who go into dentistry, his interest in the field was piqued by a good family dentist. When he told his boss that he was thinking of going to dental school, the boss replied that dentistry was much like construction—but with smaller tools. Ditty’s success in dentistry prompted the boss to shepherd his daughter into the field.
After attending Muhlenberg College, Ditty went straight to dental school, where he was drawn to the surgical side of dentistry and the hospital setting.
His Dover-based practice offers tooth extractions and corrective jaw surgery, as well as implants, including “tooth-in-a-day” procedures that replace failing or missing teeth. Procedures also address such conditions as tumors, temporomandibular joint disorders, facial injuries (fractured teeth, broken jaws, facial lacerations) and obstructive sleep apnea.
Ever curious, Ditty stays up to date on advances in his field, including virtual surgical planning, which allows the doctor to use medical imaging data to plan surgery in a computer environment, then transfer the plan to the patient using customized instruments.
His interest in learning extends to his personal life. He is currently learning to play guitar. He and his wife also like traveling to new areas when they’re not at the Bethany Beach home. He hasn’t given up his love of a hammer and nails—he is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.
A soccer coach who loves to play sports, Ditty strives for excellence, a philosophy that he applies to the office. “We always try to do the best for our patients,” says Ditty, who tells his staff members they should deliver the same customer service and care they would find in the competitive midtown Manhattan environment. In short, he says, “we demand perfection.”
Jamie Ahl, DMD//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Jamie Ahl, DMD
Jamie Ahl is an orthodontist with Ahl and O’Connor Orthodontics in Dover.
Jamie Ahl can’t recall a time when she didn’t want to be a dentist. She was initially inspired by her pediatric dentist, an energetic woman who made the appointment fun. But it wasn’t until seventh grade that she picked her focus. There were no orthodontists in the rural area of southern New Jersey where the family lived, so her mother took her to Dr. Connie Greeley’s office in Wilmington. “From the moment she put braces on me, I decided that it was a better fit for me,” recalls Ahl. She still considers Greeley a mentor.
After graduating from Woodstown High School, Ahl went to Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., then the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, from which she graduated with honors and awards from the American Academy of Periodontology and Academy of General Dentistry. She completed her orthodontic residency at Temple University School of Dentistry (now the Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry). While at Temple, she also earned a master of science in oral biology.
Orthodontics is a fast-moving profession in more ways than one. AcceleDent, Propel and temporary anchorage devices speed up tooth movement and replace the unsightly appliances common in the late 20th century. Thanks to 3D imaging, orthodontists have a comprehensive view of teeth and bone.
Putting together the right pieces to solve the patient’s problem appeals to Ahl, who keeps meticulous notes about each case so she can pinpoint the most effective, efficient approach. Her exactness no doubt comes from her mother, a corporate accountant. Ahl’s version of downtime is working on QuickBooks. “I like numbers and looking at where growth should be, setting goals and trying to reach them,” she says.
Ahl and her husband, Dr. Douglas Ditty, an oral surgeon, chose to practice in the Dover area because it’s a good place to raise a family, she says. They have three children, all under 12. (The 11-year-old has already gone through the first phase of braces.)
She and partner Charis O’Connor bought the practice that formerly belonged to Dr. Robert Kidd III. “He always gave such great advice, and a lot of it I recall and use on a daily basis.” Like Kidd, she reads at least one orthodontic textbook a year.
The practice still upholds his philosophy of making the office warm and welcoming. “We treat patients like they’re part of our work family,” she says. For everyone, the best day of the week is Friday, because that’s the happy day when braces come off.
Every year, her practice comes up with a new motto. This year, the motto is “Our smiles are contagious.” That’s one infection Ahl hopes everyone is more than happy to share.
G. William Keller, DDS
Ask G. William Keller to name one of his heroes, and he won’t hesitate. “George Washington—for what he endured during the Revolutionary War and for being the leader of our very young country,” he says. The periodontist also appreciates that Washington routinely documented his dental problems in his diary.
Keller, the son of a hardware store owner and a homemaker, grew up in Columbiana, Ohio. When he was a high school freshman, his parents began socializing with their family dentist, who encouraged the young Keller to go into dentistry.
After earning his undergraduate and degree in dentistry from Ohio State University, Keller completed a residency at the Medical College of Ohio. He moved to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania and study periodontics, which focuses on structures surrounding and supporting teeth, such as gums, tissue and bone. The specialty was a natural, considering his bachelor’s degree was in microbiology. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988.
In 2010, he moved to his current office in the Montchanin Corporate Center, which he calls a centrally located “dream location” that marries high-tech equipment with state-of-the-art sterility techniques.
His practice specializes in the treatment of gum disease. Treatments include cosmetic procedures and dental implants to replace missing teeth. Implantology is a rapidly growing field—and a rewarding one. “Because of this incredible technique, we have been able to change patients’ lives,” he says.
His challenge is to determine whether he can save a diseased tooth or whether the solution involves an implant. “Some patients take many medications that create risk factors for treatment,” he says. “They come to the office after many years of neglect, and that creates compliance issues.”
No matter the procedure, Keller and his team pride themselves on their ability to communicate with patients and make them feel comfortable. “Excellent customer service starts from the first phone call,” he says. “We hold our patient’s hand every step of the way. We have an open door policy. They will always be seen that day in case they have an emergency.”
Though Keller enjoys traveling and sports, you’ll often find him reading an article about his profession, talking business in his spare time or building relationships with referring doctors. He gets back as much as he puts in.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to eradicate periodontal disease and allow patients to keep and maintain their teeth for a lifetime,” he says. “It’s also very rewarding to replace missing and hopeless teeth with dental implants so they can function normally for a lifetime.” In Keller’s world, an appreciative hug or compliment from a satisfied patient is the definition of true happiness.
Rachel A. Maher, DMD
As a child growing up in West Chester, Pa., Rachel Maher knew she wanted to go into a medical profession. That’s not surprising given that her mother was a nurse and her father was director of the Chester County Health Department for 31 years.
Maher’s parents did more than kindle an interest in medicine. “They worked hard to put four children through school,” she says. “They stressed the importance of education, family and God. They raised us with manners, values and morals. That taught us that life is what we make out of it and what we put into it. They showed by example to be humble and grateful for what we have and to not expect anything, but to work hard for it.”
Maher, who decided to become a dentist while studying biology at Alvernia College in Reading, Pa. (now Alvernia University), puts all of her parents’ teaching to good use at Dentistry for Children in Brandywine Hundred, which diagnoses and treats dental health concerns in children from birth through the teenage years.
She decided to open a practice in Delaware because she knew firsthand that the state needed more pediatric dentists. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, she did her general residency at Christiana Care Health System. (She studied pediatric dentistry at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.)
Maher is now accustomed to wearing many hats: dentist, business owner, friend and counselor. One of her favorite roles, however, is teacher. As a pediatric dentist, she works with both the young patients and their parents to instill good habits early. She educates parents about the hazards of juices and gummy snacks and letting children take a bottle to bed, all of which can lead to cavities that can cause pain and affect the placement of permanent teeth.
“We want to get parents on the same page as far as home care,” Maher says. “Brushing teeth twice a day and flossing even baby teeth should be a priority. The combination of all these things is essential to good oral health.”
Maher, who will become the president of the Delaware State Dental Society this summer, is not all work and no play. She enjoys spending time with her husband, twin stepdaughters and family members. A member of the National Ski Patrol, she’s often found in the mountains on her days off.
Her motto? “One day at a time,” she says. “It makes me happy to know that I have done my very best and tried my hardest each and every day and to help make a difference in the children’s lives whom I encounter.”
Christopher D. Burns, DDS
The realization that a medical professional could change a patient’s life came early to Christopher Burns. He was just 8 years old when his father suffered a severe stroke while on a business trip. A neurosurgeon who happened to be walking through the emergency department when his father arrived immediately recognized the symptoms and ordered an operation. “He saved my dad’s life,” says Burns.
He entertained the idea of becoming a neurosurgeon, but while earning a bachelor of science degree at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., he worked in a research lab where he met a dental student who was enthusiastic about the tools of the trade and the creative advantages of dentistry. After talking to a few dentists, Burns was sold.
He received his doctor of dental surgery degree from Georgetown University, which had a grueling curriculum, he recalls. One of his teachers specialized in working on people who had lost part of their jaw to cancer or traumatic injury. The instructor also performed repairs of cleft palates. All of these areas appealed to Burns, who completed his prosthodontics residency at the Wilmington VA Medical Center. (Prosthodontics is concerned with the design, manufacture and fitting of artificial replacements for teeth and other parts of the mouth.)
The residency was a coveted spot, and few were accepted. Burns remains in awe of his teacher, Dr. Donald Zimmerman.
When the economy tanked in Boston, Burns decided to practice in Delaware. He had a joint practice in Milford before opening his own office in Dover. The work, he says, is rewarding, whether he’s rebuilding worn-down teeth, making comfortable dentures or restoring a jaw ravaged by disease or trauma.
Technology has greatly enhanced his practice, says Burns, who started his residency just after implants were approved. “It’s been a game-changer for patients with cancer and cleft palates,” he says.
He often provides temporary restorations for patients who’ve undergone tumor removals. Once they’re finished healing from the surgery, he makes a prosthesis or performs restorative surgery. “You get the chance to really make a difference in someone’s life,” he says.