Some professional connections begin before you even know which path you’ll take. Dr. Michael J. Uzelac of Dental Arts Group was Tiffiny Sperry’s dentist before she ever pursued a career as a dental hygienist.
“I was a frequent dental patient as a child, and my sister was a dental assistant and enjoyed it. It was always in the back of my mind to pursue it,” Sperry said. “There’s a laid back but professional atmosphere at Dr. Uzelac’s office that I’ve always liked. So, after I graduated from dental hygiene school at IUPUI, I decided to send in my resume.”
It was a good decision. Sperry has now worked with Uzelac at Dental Arts Group for nearly 22 years. While beginning solely as a dental hygienist, Sperry said she and Uzelac worked so well together that he entrusted her with the role of office manager nine years ago. Now Sperry works primarily in the office, but she still frequently flexes her dental hygienist muscles.
“When one of the other hygienists goes on vacation or is out of office, I get to put on my scrubs and fill in for them,” she said. “It’s just like riding a bike!”
Making the switch to office manager was an enjoyable lesson for Sperry.
“It’s been a fun, new adventure as far as learning marketing skills, working more closely with the rest of staff, hiring new staff members,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed learning new things.”
The real adventure began when Uzelac founded Sleep Airway Solutions. After Uzelac graduated from the American Academy of Implant Dentistry MaxiCourse in June 2012, he decided to open a practice dedicated to finding treatment alternatives—namely, oral appliance therapy—for people who struggle with sleep apnea. Sperry was along for the ride. Now, she helps Uzelac operate the two businesses.
“With Sleep Airway Solutions, I learned an entirely new system of marketing,” she said. “I learned more about credentialing and enrolling in Medicare on my own.”
Sperry said one of the real challenges with Sleep Airway Solutions was becoming acquainted with insurance companies and policies. The custom-fit appliances are tailored to each patient, and can restore alertness and revitalize health, Sperry said
“We find that a lot of patients aren’t using their CPAP machines and their obstructive sleep apnea isn’t being treated,” Sperry said. “This is a perfect solution, especially for mild to moderate sleep apnea.”
Slowly but surely, physicians and insurance companies are beginning to turn to newer sleep medicine practices like Sleep Airway Solutions.
“A lot of physicians are referring their patients to us now, and we’ve been able to contribute positive results for sleep studies,” Sperry said.
Her employer, coworkers, and patients are all Sperry needs to feel motivated to overcome any challenges she faces at work.
“Our patients will bring us goodies all the time, like fresh baked bread, fresh vegetables from their garden, homemade soups. They’re so appreciative, and so are we,” Sperry said. “Some of them have been around here for as long as I have. That personal relationship you build with them is everything.”
Sperry has a special appreciation for her boss.
“I really admire Dr. Uzelac’s desire to always want to stay current and to want to educate himself,” she said. “Sleep Airway Solutions was a huge undertaking, and one he is passionate about. He invests in education, and good tools. He knows that the industry is always changing, and he keeps up with it.”
His approach extends to his team.
“He’s always encouraging us to keep up with the industry, just like he keeps up. And as a dental hygienist, our tools are always sharp, they’re always the best tools,” she said. “I’ve subbed for other offices and they’re not like this one. Dr. Uzelac is proud of his work, and he stands by it. So do I.”
Sperry loves traveling and spending time with her friends, her two children, and her husband. When she thinks of her career, her family is never far from mind.
“We only recommend treatments that we’d want for our family and friends,” she said. “We’re not in the business of recommending anything they don’t need, can’t afford, or wouldn’t benefit from in the best way possible.”
To her, dentistry is an underrecognized facet of healthcare.
“We’re not just drilling and filling—we’re screening for oral cancer, we’re helping patients manage sleep apnea before it becomes severe, we’re advising and educating diabetic patients,” Sperry said. “This is healthcare. Here, we can save someone’s life.”