Dr. Gerstner holds a BS in Zoology from BYU, where he became interested in animal behavior and mammalogy. After graduating, he enrolled in a dual degree program at UCLA where he continued animal behavior studies in an MS program while obtaining a DDS degree. As an MS student, he studied motor control in a guinea pig model of tardive dyskinesia and became interested in the nature of time and temporality in motor behavior. After completing the DDS and MS, he pursued further graduate training through an individual NIH Dentist Scientist Award. He studied pain management as the clinical component, and he obtained a PhD in Neuroscience, during which time he did comparative behavior studies of mammals at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo and Phoenix Zoo. His present work continues to push the tension between clinical and field-biology.
Dr. Gerstner’s current research focuses on feeding motor behaviors in mammals, including humans. Data are collected in clinical, field and museum settings, and used to understand the relationships and interactions between chewing rhythmicity, jaw kinematics, oral morphology, phylogeny, feeding niche and clinical disorders, e.g., obstructive sleep apnea. Darwin recognized “the strange fact that every particle of food and drink which we swallow has to pass over the orifice of the trachea, with some risk of falling into the lungs, notwithstanding the beautiful contrivance by which the glottis is closed”. The “beautiful contrivance” involves complex motor behaviors that shunt air and food into the appropriate respiratory or digestive systems below the throat. Mastication is a unique mammal-specific way of efficiently reducing food in the mouth so that subsequent swallowing only briefly interrupts respiration. But mastication causes tooth wear, and excessive tooth wear can reduce fitness. And yet, a testament to the success of mammals is their breathtaking variety of jaw and tooth morphology and feeding niche diversity. But, because the system is not perfect, numerous clinical conditions arise including excessive tooth wear, feeding disorders, swallowing disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, etc.
Dr. Gerstner's clinical practice is limited to seeing obstructive sleep apnea and primary snoring patients.