When it came to deciding on which career to pursue, Dr. Tara Moncus got a little help… from Oprah Winfrey.

“I went to the University of Alabama for undergrad, and was interested in the sciences and working with kids,” said Dr. Moncus. “I started college thinking I’d become a pediatrician, but after some hospital rotations and realizing how busy pediatric healthcare can be, I knew I wanted something more flexible.”

Dr. Tara Moncus and familyDr. Tara Moncus and family“One day, I came home from class and turned on the Oprah Winfrey Show. That particular day, Oprah was giving make-overs and setting up blind dates for people who had dedicated their lives to their work and hadn’t taken much time for themselves. One of the ladies on the episode was a pediatric dentist whose staff had written in, requesting to get her on the show. I grew up in the little town of Fyffe, Ala. and we didn’t have a pediatric dentist, so I’d never heard of that! I immediately went to the phonebook and found four pediatric dentists in Tuscaloosa; one of whom was a female, Dr. Karen Clements-Crunk. I called her and asked if I could come observe, and she enthusiastically said yes. After meeting and spending some time with Dr. Clements-Crunk, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Before I watched that Oprah show, though, I hadn’t considered dentistry at all! If it hadn’t been for that day, I don’t think I’d be doing this.”

Once Tara decided on pediatric dentistry, she then set her sights on dental school and residency at UAB. And when Tara Moncus decides she’s going to do something, she gets tunnel vision!.

“I went to meet with Dr. Steve Filler about applying to the School. He asked me where I’d applied, and I told him, ‘Here.’ And he said, ‘Where else?’ And I said, ‘Here.’ And he said, ‘Nowhere else? Are you crazy?’ And I said, ‘This is the best place to come, right? I don’t want to go anywhere else!’ And he smiled ear to ear and said, ‘That’s what I like to hear!’”

Dr. Moncus’s determination continued throughout her four years of dentistry. In fact, on her very first day during orientation, she marched right up to Dr. Noel Childers, Chief of Dentistry at The Children’s Hospital of Alabama and faculty member at the time, to lay out her plans.

“I’d never met or heard of Dr. Childers before that day, but he came to speak to our class about his department and after he was done, I made a beeline to introduce myself to him. I told him outright, ‘I’m going to be in your residency program in four years,’ and he responded with, ‘We’ll see how you feel about it after you’ve treated a few kids in the clinic.’ I told him that I already knew how I felt about it, and that I’d see him in four years! Then on residency graduation day, he gave me a note. In it, he wrote to me that he knew that very first day during orientation that I was going to be in the pediatric residency program. To this day, I can’t tell that story without choking up!”

For a gal that grew up in a town with one traffic light, Tara knew she didn’t want to stick around Birmingham long-term. So after she finished her residency in 2003, she headed back to Fyffe.

“My then-fiancé Steve and I couldn’t get back to this mountain fast enough!” Dr. Moncus laughed. “Those first months were a blur though. I was planning our wedding and trying to renovate my office building in Rainsville at the same time. Our wedding was October 4th and I opened my practice on October 20th. I bit off more than I could chew; it was a rush! I had to start and build my business from scratch, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my own childhood dentist who was still in the area, Dr. John Anderson. That first week I was open, Dr. Anderson was off. We thought all of our supplies would be there, but they ended up delayed a day and we didn’t find out until the day before we were supposed to start seeing patients. I called Dr. Anderson and begged him to let me borrow his stuff for our first day, and he told me I could go take whatever I needed, and to not worry about it. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know what I would’ve done!”

Being the first (and, still today, the only) pediatric dentist in Rainsville, Tara’s practice grew quickly. “We outgrew that first office space within two years,” she said. “We had patients sitting out in the yard and on the porch because the waiting room was so full!”

When it came time to think about building a new practice building, Dr. Moncus knew she wanted something different. After visiting a pediatric dentist’s office in Washington state for inspiration, she and her office manager got to work. “Once we started brainstorming, the ideas kept rolling in. When it was all said and done, that office we visited in Washington was a miniature version of what I had come up with because when I do something, I tend to go overboard!”

She might call it ‘going overboard,’ but Tara’s office is a whimsical child-paradise, and nothing short of brilliant. Throughout the building, she has display windows filled with beautiful antiques, toys, and memorabilia. Every wall is painted with a mural, depicting creative scenes that appear plucked right out of a storybook. Somewhere between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, Mary Poppins’s fantasy world, and the state fair is Rainsville Pediatric Dental Village.

“I love collecting eighteenth and nineteenth century antiques,” Dr. Moncus explained. “Before I built my office, I sat down and came up with every single window display that I wanted to include. It probably took me two years to find all the antiques that I envisioned including.”

But her favorite window?

“Four years before I built my office, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. While we were building, he got really sick and passed away just as we were opening. My favorite window is our ‘Sports Window,’ because it has my Daddy’s letterman’s sweater in it. It reminds me of him every day.” While the space she gets to work in is certainly charming, Dr. Moncus’s favorite aspect of her job is her young patients. “You never know what kids are going to say,” she said. “I’ve heard all kinds of stories over the years. If you don’t want your kids to say something in public, then you better not tell them because they’ll tell their dentist! It can be very entertaining. I just love what I do!”