Alumni Spotlight: Teichmiller excels in dentistry and in service
Written by J. Scott Huffman
At the time she was growing up on the family farm in Western Kentucky, Dr. Stephanie Teichmiller (’90) had no inkling she would become a dentist.
Dr. Stephanie Teichmiller (centered). In fact, she felt destined for a career in agriculture. “Oh, I loaded up tractors and trailers, and I sprayed numerous plots of Johnson grass”, she said with a little chuckle. “Growing up on a farm is where I learned my love of science”. She even worked summers at the University of Kentucky in the agronomy department.
She pursued her interest in science as a student at the University of North Alabama. Her father grew up in nearby Sheffield and she often visited her grandparents there, so UNA was the appropriate school to continue her education. Receiving a presidential scholarship, she excelled as a student there in pre-med, and was recently named the 2021 UNA Alumnae of the Year. After graduating from college, she took a job working at the Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, now a little unsure of her career path. Teichmiller conducted cancer research with mice. “I didn’t like mice being in charge of my life and telling me what to do, so I decided to look into dentistry”, she said. After meeting with Dr. David Greer and going through the admissions process, she was sold on a career path that would change her life.
Getting through dental school was not easy. Teichmiller’s classmates bonded, partly out of necessity. Their class was one of perpetual change as they had three different deans during their time. She concedes that the curriculum and clinical aspects were challenging, but says she loved being a dental student. Several of the faculty were ex-military. Teichmiller singled out Drs. Milton Essig and Leonard Mueninghoff as two of her favorites. As a student, she excelled in Oral Pathology and Prosthodontics. When she graduated from UAB, she and her husband, Chris, an optometrist, looked at areas where they could both practice. They decided on Decatur, Ala where they have both practiced and raised a family for more than thirty years.
As the owner of her private dental practice, Decatur Smiles, Teichmiller has become a pillar of the Decatur community. She has made it her mission to mentor young women. She is the official dentist of the Miss Alabama pageant, where she has been treating and mentoring those young women for nearly 17 years. Her involvement with the Miss Alabama pageant includes donating a Smile Scholarship to a young lady who majors in dentistry or medicine. Her community involvement has also included volunteerism in the Junior League of Morgan County, President of the Mental Health Association, the Girl Scouts of America and several other organizations. She was recognized by the Rotary as a Paul Harris Fellow. In 2018 Ultradent named her an International ICON of dentistry for her mentorship of women. “As I look back on my life, it has been about mentoring, mainly other women. If we want more women leaders, someone needs to step in, so for me it was plugging into the community. I want to make a difference,” she said.
One would think raising two children, running a private dental practice, and volunteering for several charitable causes would be enough to satisfy a person’s interests. It’s certainly enough to fill their plate. But not so for Teichmiller. In 2015, she started volunteering at the UAB School of Dentistry, helping with students in the Limited Care Clinic a couple of Fridays each month. Still, that wasn’t enough. “I was kind of in a funk or mid-life crisis, and I was at the point of wanting another challenge,” she said. So, in 2017, she became a half-time professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry. Teichmiller still has her private practice but now teaches third and fourth year students at the School of Dentistry two days a week and is Assistant Director of the Comprehensive Care Clinic. She believes her real world experiences can be a valuable to her students. “My mindset is to give the students hope and to meet them with high standards. I want to take some of the very stressful situations I’ve had (in my practice) and teach them how to manage those situations so they are better prepared,” she said. On working with students, “I’m approachable, but I have very high standards. I inspect what I expect. I don’t mind setting the expectation high. I try to have clear communications and try to get the students to think things through.”
Confident, determined, and always smiling, Teichmiller is an asset to the UAB School of Dentistry, her patients, and her community. “I have this dream life. I run my business the way I want to run it. When I come down here (to the School of Dentistry), those pressures are off and I can just be here for the students. I get to focus on them.”
Originally posted at The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Dentistry