Sleep medicine and dentistry: an interesting connection

Sleep medicine and dentistry: an interesting connection

As far as medical specialties go, sleep medicine is a relatively new field. The first U.S. sleep lab to record, diagnose, and help provide treatment plans for sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea opened in the 1970s, and the field was codified in 1978 with the birth of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“As with any rapidly evolving field, and with this being a relatively new science, explanations and treatments are changing as fast as the data change,” said Michael Uzelac, D.D.S., a sleep dentist with Sleep Airway Solutions in Valparaiso.

Treating sleep apnea from a dental perspective is a perfect example of how the medical specialty has quickly evolved. Dental sleep medicine is an area of dental practice that focuses on the use of oral appliance therapy to treat sleep disorders such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Uzelac expects to become board certified by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) this summer. A search on the AADSM’s website reveals he is the only AADSM qualified dentist in Porter County.

“Sleep disruption is about much more than just feeling tired,” Uzelac said. “This is a medical problem. If I can’t do my job well, people’s lives are at risk, so I’ve deliberately taken this path with my dental practice to further my education and help my patients.” This path involves upwards of 75 hours of classes and research on dental sleep medicine.

The science of sleep

“Why do we sleep?” Uzelac asked. “To rejuvenate our energy. Heal our wounds. Flush the ‘gunk’ from our brains. To solidify memories. To build hormones. If sleep is disrupted, something doesn’t get done,” he said. “Insulin isn’t produced. Lycopene isn’t produced. The list goes on.”

In fact, breathing disruptions during sleep caused from snoring or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can contribute to high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and depression, according to the AADSM.

Many patients know they have a sleep disruption problem simply because their significant other complains about constant snoring. Or maybe the patient wakes themselves gasping for air in the middle of the night. Other signs and symptoms of sleep disruption aren’t so obvious and require a closer look.

“When breathing disruptions occur, blood oxygen levels decrease, and the heart becomes stressed. A stressed heart creates a protein called BNP, and the body gets rid of BNP through urine. Hence, you’re waking up at night to use the bathroom, which further disrupts sleep,” Uzelac said. Morning headaches, severe dry throat, daily fatigue, and forgetfulness also are symptoms of sleep apnea, he added.

Seeking treatment for OSA through dental sleep medicine

Uzelac and the professionals at Sleep Airway Solutions urge patients to consider speaking with a qualified dental sleep medicine dentist for an evaluation. Dental sleep medicine is centered around using oral appliances that look like retainers or mouth guards to reduce or eliminate snoring and improve breathing during sleep. For more information, visit or call 219-286-8641. Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series in June that describes the treatment in more detail.