It’s no secret that dentistry is an excellent profession, and most dentists love their jobs. However, most would also agree that much of their four years of dental school were spent grinding, just putting one foot in front of the other to push to the end. Dr. Mary Leigh Gillespie is the exception.

Dr. Clark Browne

“I loved dental school! I’m one of the few people who would actually choose to go back and relive it,” she said. “Academically speaking, it was certainly hard. But the hands-on aspect was a real treat for me. I wasn’t at the top of the class, but I’m a hard worker and very determined and driven. I had to put in a lot of extra hours studying, but working in the lab was fun for me, and of course interacting with patients in clinic was an absolute joy.”

Dr. Gillespie is from the Shoals of Alabama, and her hometown pride runs deep. Born in Tuscumbia, Ala., she went to high school in Florence and stayed close by for college, attending the University of North Alabama (UNA) before she entered the School of Dentistry at UAB. “We loved living in Birmingham. We had a lot of fun during dental school – we attended concerts, we ate a lot of good food. It was a great place to live, but I’m a hometown kid and we moved back as soon as we graduated. And by ‘we,’ I mean myself and my husband, Bradley, because he basically went through dental school with me!” she joked.

As a young woman, Mary Leigh wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue a career in health care. “My mom is a nurse, and she worked in labor and delivery for many years. I remember her always talking about taking care of patients,” Mary Leigh recalls. “I considered medicine, but I knew I wanted a family and to not be stuck in the hospital or on-call 24/7. My mom’s best friend’s husband is a dentist, Dr. James Stoddard, and I spent time shadowing him while I was still in school at UNA. That’s when I decided to apply to dental school.”

Looking back, Dr. Gillespie admits that she was somewhat destined to become a dentist because of her uncle, Dr. William “Bill” Ashley. “My uncle was a member of one of the very first graduating classes of the oral surgery program at UAB, the class of 1952. Fast forward fifty years, and he was the one that handed me my dental degree when I graduated in 2002! It was so special. But it was through Uncle Bill that I met Dr. Charles “Scotty” McCallum. I’ll never forget how welcomed he made me feel to campus. At the time when I was interviewing with the School of Dentistry, I went to dinner at his house. We talked about anything and everything, and I’ll never forget the way Dr. McCallum made me feel like a friend, and that he truly cared about me. If we could all do just half the good work Scotty McCallum did, the world would be a much better place.”

Dr. McCallum isn’t the only faculty member that Dr. Gillespie remembers with deep fondness and who shaped her career as a dentist. “I can’t talk about dental school without first mentioning Dr. Dick Weems. I probably followed him around like a shadow! Dr. Liu and Dr. Hsu were both terrific prosthodontists to learn from. Dr. Jean O’Neil was a fantastic teacher, and to this day when I’ve visited her at her office, she just dives right in and starts teaching again! Dr. David Greer was a very special person, and an amazing advocate for us students.”

“But I can’t talk about great UAB School of Dentistry professors without mentioning Dr. Patrick Louis. He is amazing. My father passed away while I was in dental school to multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. His funeral was around the same time as some of our finals, and I was faced with the reality of possibly receiving zeros for any finals that I missed in order to go home for the funeral. Dr. Louis went to bat for me, though. He was so compassionate. To this day, I still get a little star struck by him because he’s just so smart! He’s a terrific educator and oral surgeon, and just a great man.”

Mary Leigh returned back home to the Shoals after she graduated from dental school, and began practicing as an associate with Dr. James Ryerson. She eventually became a partner at Dr. Ryerson’s practice, until 2014 when she opened Dynamic Dentistry of the Shoals with Dr. Julie Rice. For twelve years, Mary Leigh had been involved with Dr. Ryerson’s “Dentistry from the Heart,” a day-long charity event held around Valentine’s Day each year.

Mary Leigh Gillespie poses with a large group of coworkers. “We’d invite several dentists and oral surgeons to the office to serve as many patients as possible free of charge. Patients could choose one treatment – a cleaning, filling, or extraction,” explained Dr. Gillespie. “When we opened Dynamic Dentistry of the Shoals, we started “Thanksgiving Back a Smile,” a similar event held each November. We’ve held it every year since, including in 2020 during the pandemic. It’s much more of a blessing for me than it is the patients, I think. Times can be hard, and a little generosity goes a long way. It’s my favorite day of the year!”

Whether it’s the patients she’s treating, the community she’s serving, or her own family, Dr. Gillespie loves others generously. And she certainly knows how to have fun!

“I tell my patients that, when I grow up, I’m going to work at Disney World and tell everyone to have a magical day,” laughed Mary Leigh. “I’m a big kid at heart! I love to have fun, whether it’s at work dressing up for Halloween, or playing hard outside the office with my husband and children, Mary McCarley (11) and Jack (10).”

“I think there’s so much more to dentistry than just being a ‘tooth doctor’. You can inspire people to have better health, and a better life. I try to bridge the gap between good oral health and overall health- it’s not just about brushing and flossing! It’s about how oral hygiene can impact us in other ways, too. I want to teach others how to help themselves.”

If you would like to nominate a UAB School of Dentistry alumnus to be featured in an upcoming Alumni Spotlight, please email Elizabeth Carlson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..