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Martha Cortes, DDS, is a unique and advanced dentist who owns and operates Sleep Fitness LLC, which takes a holistic approach to oral treatment. But her dental career almost never happened due to a little thing called biochemistry. Fortunately, she took a detour along the way.
To Cortes, it’s “shockingly wonderful” to see patients experience growth, and a change in lifestyle that gives them more confidence.
A career in dentistry was never part of her strategy. Biochemistry was her focus, building on the graduate work she had done on opioid receptors. But while finishing her master’s at NYU Medical Center, a female doctor noticed her hands.
“We’re really amazed at your hands,” Martha Cortes, DDS, recalls being told. “You have such dexterity. You should be a dentist.”
That set the ball in motion. And a short while later, while interning with Barry Grayson, DDS, in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics at NYU Medical Center, she encountered a young woman at a clinic suffering from congenital craniofacial abnormality who had already experienced multiple surgeries.
“She literally looked like her face was sunken in,” Cortes remembers. “She would never smile, never look at your eyes.”
Several months later, a transformation had taken place. The woman was smiling.
“All I could think of was, I’d love to be doing this,” Cortes says. “To help people get confidence, like sunshine radiating from their face.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
TREATING SLEEP APNEA
Today, Cortes is a general dentist and a dental-sleep medicine expert who operates Cortes Advanced Dentistry in New York City. She is also the founder of Sleep Fitness LLC and has become a leading dentist in treating sleep apnea and other breathing related disorders.
“I have some physicians for patients,” she says. “We’re remodeling their airway, which is really interesting. And it has to do with realizing that it’s not just dental. Medicine needed a wake-up call.”
Cortes and her team work to help patients achieve a cure by developing the bones and soft tissue around the airway. The process involves non-surgical airway remodeling devices patients wear at night, and some light aligners worn during the day. And a key component is orofacial myofunctional/exercise therapy.
“It trains the tongue, it trains the lips, it trains the muscles and it changes the way you swallow,” Cortes explains. “In children, if you put in these appliances, I guarantee that in two weeks they will not be bedwetting every night. Because a symptom of children’s sleep apnea is bedwetting.”
Cortes defines sleep fitness as a lifestyle. She says it’s about creating a “clean mouth” in order to develop a “good elementary canal.” To be more exact, she compares it in some ways to eating organic foods, exercising or yoga meditation. It’s a choice.
“I am witnessing so many children who literally cannot stand straight,” she says. “They have crushed chests. Some of those kids can’t go to regular school because they don’t do well socializing. But three to six months of expansion with these orthotics improved their attitude toward learning, working and they had more energy. And it’s because we treated their airway.”
Cortes says it’s “shockingly wonderful” to see patients experience growth, and a change in lifestyle that gives them more confidence. But it’s also about improved health.
“It’s unbelievable, whether it’s kids or adults,” she says.
One patient recalls that 20 years ago Cortes put veneer on his teeth that had some imperfections since childhood. He has since moved away from New York and notes that the dentists wherever he has lived were “awed” when they discovered that what they saw was not the real surface of his teeth.
More recently, Cortes says that one patient previous to treatment was described as being irritable and hot-tempered. Now, he’s calmer and losing weight. He even recognized that he wasn’t as irritable.
“That’s good,” Cortes told him. “You’re getting oxygen. If you were a little kid and if you were hyper, you would be calming down and doing your homework better. It would be easier.”
Cortes is extremely dedicated, but she does have a life away from her practice. One of her favorite activities, though she acknowledges she’s only able to do it every three to five years, is skiing in Colorado.
“I almost made it this year,” she laughs, “but they didn’t have enough snow.”
She also enjoys biking, canoeing and kayaking, but also loves reading and studying.
“I will never get over being a real nerd,” she says. “Two or three days of the week I wake up at 4 a.m. to study for about two hours. Either I’m reading, studying or writing two or three times a week. You have to know who you are.”
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