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When asked about her favorite aspect of being an orthodontist, Dr. Leigh Bayer Curtis doesn’t miss a beat.

“It is a very rewarding profession for sure!” she said. “When a patient completes treatment and notices the changes in their smile, I truly see their confidence boost immediately. Since aligner therapy or clear removable aligners have gained popularity, I am definitely seeing more adults that did not have the opportunity to have orthodontic treatment at a younger age. The adults are proud to be doing something for themselves, and the kids and teens still love the fun color change at their appointment with traditional braces.” 

Dr. Leigh Bayer Curtis with her father, Dr. Peter BayerDr. Leigh Bayer Curtis with her father, Dr. Peter BayerDr. Curtis joined her father, Dr. Peter Bayer’s, orthodontic practice in her hometown of Fort Walton Beach, Fla. in 2004. But the journey to finally settling back home in Florida first took her across the country.

“After graduating Clemson University, three girlfriends and I packed up and drove to Vail, Colo. This ‘year off’ was spent waiting tables, serving people, and having fun on the ski slopes!” Dr. Curtis laughed. “My parents were relieved to know I was only taking one year ‘off’ before starting dental school at UAB. However, my time in Colorado really taught me the value of patience, kindness, and excellent customer service skills, which I still use in my practice to this day.”

Leigh did finally return to the South, and entered the UAB School of Dentistry in the fall of 1997. During her third year of dental school, she married her high school sweetheart, Damian. They enjoyed Birmingham and were happy to spend an extra year for Leigh to complete the GPR program while simultaneously receiving her master’s degree in Public Health from UAB.

“My experience with the UAB hospital Residency Program was one of my favorite years,” remembered Dr. Curtis fondly. “The dental school is an excellent program but as a student, it can also be challenging and overwhelming. To stay and put what I learned in dental school into practice during my GPR residency while still in an educational environment was profound, and quite helpful for me. One of the most influential people from that year was Dr. John Coke, then-Program Director for the GPR program. He had clear expectations and set goals for his residents, but he led with a caring and compassionate heart. He was a very real person; he expected us to leave his program as better dentists than when we started, but he cared about our personal lives and how we were doing.”

After five years in Alabama, Damian and Leigh headed up to New York City for Leigh’s orthodontic residency at New York University (NYU). 

“I had residency interviews at various places, but we ultimately decided it would be a fun change to experience life in New York City as a young couple. Even though we were busy and had no money, my favorite part was learning to live in the city on a budget. We found that if we wanted to see a show, we could stand outside the door of the theatre and if there were any seats left, they would sell the tickets cheaper. We would go to China Town and pick up two lobsters and carry them in our backpacks on the Subway back to our apartment for a ‘fine dining’ experience. We had to stop by the market every few days because our apartment was too small for big grocery store hauls. It was a great two years, but ultimately Damian and I knew we were not ‘city people.’ We like having a car and a backyard, and of course the beach!”

In 2004, Dr. Curtis graduated from NYU Orthodontic Residency Program, and she and Damian said ‘goodbye’ to life in the city, and returned to the beaches of Fort Walton. 

“I joined my dad’s practice as an associate, we bought a home, and I had my first baby – all in the same year! After two years as an associate, I started the buy-in process and became a partner alongside my dad in 2008. I already loved and respected my dad as a parent, but watching him care for his patients and for him to put me on a pedestal and welcome me to a practice that he’d started and grown over thirty years just made me love and respect him even more.”

These days, Leigh’s father remains an excellent sounding board for tough treatment plans, and enjoys being on a “call-as-needed” status. As the family practice continues, Dr. Curtis and Damian both strive to find the best work-life balance. Between two businesses (Bayer & Curtis Orthodontics and D.L. Curtis Construction) and their three children, Hayden (17), Martha Rylee (14) and Clark (10), they stay busy! 

“We love boating, traveling, and retreating together to our hunting cabin in Dozier, Ala. for some time outdoors. I am happy as long as I am somewhere warm and in the sunshine!” 

After eighteen years in practice, Leigh remains grateful for her dental school experience.

“I am thankful for UAB – for the life it has provided me, for the friendships I made, and for my education.”