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The 1990s was the decade when both the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the School of Dentistry changed physically. It was a transformation that current SOD professor Stephen Mitchell, D.M.D., M.S., witnessed firsthand following his arrival at UAB as a student in 1991.

Before and after renovations of the UAB School of Dentistry

“In the early 1990s, UAB was something you drove through to get to the medical campus,” Mitchell says. “You would have a UAB building sitting side-by-side with a non-UAB building There weren’t as many greenspaces as there are now. There just wasn’t a ton of undergraduate campus life. But without question, that changed over the decade.”

Likewise, the School of Dentistry kicked off a significant alteration near the end of the 1990s. With direction from new dean Mary Lynne Capilouto, D.M.D., the SOD building would undergo a $35 million renovation that included the construction of a new atrium-designed front entrance, along with a distinctive art-deco makeover of the overall exterior.

“When I started as a student, there was still a stone staircase at the front of the building, and there was a second entrance on Seventh Avenue that was closed,” Mitchell says. “That had been the Black entrance during segregation. It wasn’t used anymore, but it was still there. You saw this door and had no idea why it was there.

“When Mary Lynne Capilouto came in as dean, she had a vision to update the school. She was a big reason why that renovation took place, and it totally changed the look of the building.”

In fact, the airy new entrance and a spacious drop-off and pick-up point for patients were just two of the many physical improvements meant to mirror the patient-centric philosophy of the school.

Change was taking place internally at the School of Dentistry as well. Mitchell says the biggest advancement in the field during that time involved the use of dental implants, which had been utilized sparingly during the 1980s. Mitchell recalls spending time experimenting with implants while working in the lab of Professor Jack Lemons, Ph.D., who specialized in biomaterials and the biomechanics of surgical implants for the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine and Engineering.

“Implants were really coming of age when I was a student,” Mitchell says. “At that point, they were still trying to figure out how to get implants fused to the bone. Now implants are considered to be the way to replace a tooth. But back then, they were still looking at the different things that needed to occur to get the body to accept them.”

Three decades after that early research into implants, it was announced this year that the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network – which is founded and hosted at the UAB SOD – is becoming home to the nation’s first dental implant registry. Funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the registry will drive a three-year study of dental implant outcomes and aims to investigate the parameters associated with the success of implant therapy, as well as the rate of prosthetic and biologic implant complications.

Of course, dental practices can change and buildings inevitably come and go. The one thing that remains constant is the effort of the people involved withing the School of Dentistry. Here is a quick look at three such people who made an impact at the SOD in the 1990s and beyond.

Perng-Ru Liu: SOD dental clinic coordinator Angela Law Rembert had been working at UAB for barely a year when Liu joined the SOD in 1990 as a third-year student in Restorative Dentistry. Rembert says Liu arrived at UAB from Taiwan with his wife, a degree from Chung-Shan Medical University, two suitcases and not much else.

By decade’s end, Liu was on the cusp of being named the founding chair for the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry. He later chaired the Department of Prosthodontics and the Department of Restorative Sciences before being appointed Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs in 2020. Liu passed away in 2022.

“He went from being a student to basically being a dean,” Rembert says. “I watched him grow throughout the ‘90s and saw how instrumental he was to the School. He was very nice and respectful. He always put people first and encouraged you to do your best. He would put you on top of a pedestal, when really it should have been the other way around.”

lizMarjorie Jeffcoat: In 1988, Jeffcoat left the Harvard School of Dental Medicine to become the SOD assistant dean of research and professor and chair of the Department of Periodontics, a position she held throughout the 1990s. Before making the move, she told a young assistant at Harvard that there was a job for her at UAB if she was interested.

That is how Elizabeth Bolton ended up at the School of Dentistry. She says she originally anticipated staying for only a year or two to gain some experience. But partly because of Jeffcoat, Bolton never left, and she is now the administrative supervisor for the Department of Periodontology.

“I was planning on going back to Boston, but Dr. Jeffcoat was such a great woman to work for,” Bolton says. “She was very smart and creative. She was constantly thinking of new things: new clinical trials, new studies, new improvements for dentistry. She treated people very well, and her patients loved her.”

While at UAB, Jeffcoat was named the first female editor at The Journal of the American Dental Association. She later became dean of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Jeffcoat passed away in 2020.

Alfred Maier: A ritual for most SOD students in the 1990s was to take the Gross Anatomy class taught by Maier, a German immigrant and neuroscientist who came to UAB as a professor in 1980 after spending most of the 1970s teaching at UCLA. Mitchell was one of those students, and he said the most memorable think about Maier was his memory.


“The amazing thing about him is you would walk into class on one of the first days, and that man had memorized the names of every student,” Mitchell says. “He used old 35-millimeter slides during his lectures. I’m from Huntsville originally, and one day he was talking and a slide of the Space and Rocket Center popped up. He said, “Mr. Mitchell, what is this?” He did something like that with a lot of students. So not only would he know your name, he also knew something about you. He was just phenomenal.”