By Deb Silverthorn
Pediatric dentist Dr. Matthew Schwed makes smiles happen for miles — for his patients, at the Aaron Family JCC and for the youngest students in the community.
“So much of our wellness begins with the mouth, the gateway to whole body health,” said Schwed. “It’s important to be proactive and not wait for issues to arise. When the teeth are coming in, it’s time for that visit.”
Schwed, his wife Tova and their children Racheli, Ephraim, Koby and Neima, moved to Dallas in 2017, after some challenging times of their own.
Before moving to Dallas from Brooklyn, Schwed had scheduled surgery for a rare condition caused by an abnormal opening in the upper part of the inner ear and the brain. Still, the couple expected a quick recovery and planned to soon be in Dallas.
There were complications, another extensive surgery and an excruciating recovery before the family finally moved in 2017. Never giving up even during their yearlong delay, they were welcomed by a Dallas community that had been praying for and supporting them.
“We went through so much, and the people we met in Dallas when we visited reached out and were so thoughtful,” said Tova, who is a speech pathologist.
The son of Geraldine and Henry, who have joined their family in Dallas, and brother of Andrew, Schwed was born and raised in Vineland, New Jersey. He earned a degree in liberal arts and Jewish studies at Rutgers University, then decided to study in Israel. After two years at Jerusalem’s Ohr Somayach, he returned to the States and enrolled at Columbia University School of Nursing.
While working at New York University Medical Center, Schwed realized that nursing was not meant to be his path. With his wife’s encouragement, he began taking science courses he’d need to apply to dental school. His persistence and determination paid off.
“I remember coming in from the mailbox with the thick envelope just before Shabbos,” he said. “My then 4-year-old started shouting ‘yea, Abba got into dental school,’ then asking ‘what is dental school?’”
After graduating from NYU College of Dentistry, Schwed participated in the pediatric dental residency at Brookdale Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Ready to begin his new career, and the rest of their lives, he and Tova were impressed by Dallas’ cost of living, its Jewish day schools, synagogues and overall sense of community. They visited, bought a home, enrolled their children at Torah Day School of Dallas and went home to pack. Then the surgery and complications occurred. When they finally got to settle, “we fell in love with our beautiful neighborhood and how friendly everyone was,” Tova said. “Our first day here our New York City-born kids caught a frog on the lawn and asked why there was no graffiti.”
Schwed started his Dallas career working for iKids Pediatric Dentistry, traveling to the company’s 15 local offices seeing up to 60 children in a day. In 2019, he decided it was time to open his own practice, first signing the lease on his office just months before COVID-19 arrived. Work that was supposed to be completed by the end of March 2020 took months longer while Schwed paid rent on a property that could service no clients. In July, 2020, the state-of-the-art office opened.
“I’m much more than a ‘toothologist,’ really a pediatric behavioral specialist as well, and the opportunity to work with my patients with regard to so many concerns is incredible,” said Schwed, whose residency afforded him experience with head and neck traumas. “From early oral care to diagnosing and treating conditions of ankyloglossia (tongue-tie), lactation concerns and more,” said Schwed, “I’ve been able to do the work I was meant to do.”
Nikki Friedman, whose four young children were patients of Schwed’s before they made aliyah this past summer, said the dentist was knowledgeable and “never, ever rushed us through a visit.” Schwed came to their home the night before they left for a private tooth-brushing inspirational tutorial. “He enlightened us about airway issues, bite correction, sleep apnea, tongue placement and so much more. He’s super attentive and you can feel how much he cares.”
Julie Blasnik, the owner and director of Kiddie Krafts Preschool, knows keeping little ones still isn’t easy. With that, she very much respects the way the dentist engaged her own 18-month-old son Parker during his first visit.
“I saw a post on Dallas Jewish Moms on Facebook and there were so many recommendations. I went in for what I thought would be a quick visit and Dr. Schwed took his time with us,” said Blasnik. “He was efficient and able to keep Parker calm, even convincing him to lay back and so he could complete the checkup. In a minute you can see the relationship he has with children.”
Schwed and “Minty the Tooth Fairy” (a.k.a. Tova) have visited with students at several schools including Chabad of Dallas’ Gan Menachem and Torah Day School of Dallas. In October, Schwed visited the Aaron Family JCC’s “J Baby” program, speaking about what new parents need to be concerned with regarding their children’s oral health.
“Dr. Schwed did a great job putting our parents at ease, sharing why early care is important and what red flags to look for,” said Tara Ohayon, the Aaron Family JCC director of Early Childhood Learning. “He’s very approachable and kind, which for both parents and children is really important.”