Growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Dr. Keri Miller’s childhood interests looked a bit different from what you might expect of an aspiring dentist. Instead of focusing on science and healthcare, Dr. Miller spent her childhood engrossed in the fine arts.

Dr. Keri MillerDr. Keri Miller and family “I loved music especially! I took piano, chorus, and vocal training. I was in vocal ensembles and drama groups. My dad worked for the federal government in information systems and my mom was a stay-at-home mom, so our family was not really in the world of health care at all.

But Dr. Miller’s affinity for the arts is what eventually deepened her appreciation for dentistry.

“About halfway through dental school I realized I really enjoyed the artistry of dentistry. I loved the process of removing what was diseased or broken and making it healthy and beautiful again.”

Keri went to Troy State University, and entered the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for dental school in 1996.

“I knew I wanted to work with children and, originally, my goal was to be an orthodontist. But, while orthodontists certainly make teeth beautiful by bringing order to chaos, there is not as much rebuilding of teeth. Trauma cases are so fun to me because I get to make the patient’s teeth and mouth whole again. They come in sad and leave happy! And I love seeing patients grow up over the years. So about mid-way through dental school I made the transition from orthodontics to pediatric dentistry.”

During her senior year, Dr. Miller gave birth to her son, Brooks. And while she remembers many instructors and faculty members with fondness, Dr. Raquel Mazer was a standout.

“In those days, there was no real support for new or nursing mothers at the School,” remembered Keri. “There was not a nursing suite, no accommodations, no online support groups, nothing. Dr. Mazer was such a sweet mentor as I tried to figure out how to simultaneously wear the hats of mother and student and dentist. I never have forgotten that kindness and, to this day, I try to be an encourager and supporter of student mothers. In fact, we support a program at Auburn University called Baby Steps, which helps student single mothers to complete their course of study while mothering newborns. It is empowering and life-giving.”

Dr. Miller’s dental school class was also an enormous source of support; the Class of 2000 was, and still is, about as close-knit as they come.

“My class was awesome!” said Keri. “We will all tell you that! We were a special, fun group, and could throw the best parties. We had Halloween costume parties, Christmas semi-formals, and spring time Crawfish boils. Even though we had zero money, we could throw a party! We were in it together for better or worse, like siblings. Even now that we are over twenty years out of school, we remain close. We have been through two refining fires together: we went through the fire of dental school together, and then we went through the pandemic together. Most of us attended our twentieth reunion during the 2020 Alumni Weekend, and three weeks later COVID-19 hit. We clung to each other to navigate that time, and we still have text threads going from those early pandemic days. I do not think we could have gotten through either fire without each other. I’m so thankful for my specific class and the relationships we have with each other. If you are going to weather something tough, you need a true friend, and we have them.”

Dr. Miller stayed in Birmingham another two years to complete her Pediatric Dentistry Residency at UAB, and then she and her husband, Brent, moved back to Montgomery in 2002.

“I practiced with my own childhood dentist, Dr. Tommy James, at Montgomery Pediatric Dentistry. He was not only my first experience with pediatric dentistry as a patient, but later gave me my first job as a dentist. I’ve often said that UABSOD taught me the clinical skills of pediatric dentistry but Dr. James actually taught me how to practice dentistry. He was an amazing man.”

In the early 2000’s, Montgomery Pediatric Dentistry decided to open a satellite office in Auburn. It quickly became clear, though, that it would not flourish as well as the existing river region offices.

“In Lee County, the Auburn-Opelika area is a hometown. Our community does life together. It has a very small-town feel, and satellite offices from bigger cities are not common. We needed someone to live in Lee County, be involved in the community, and operate it as a hometown practice. So my husband and I decided to move. We ended up selling our share of the thriving main offices and buying the struggling new office. We left everything we knew in Montgomery, including our families, and started over in a new place as a young family with two school-aged kids. It was definitely a leap of faith. We knew we desperately needed production, so right off the bat we accepted Medicaid because there was an abundance of Medicaid children in the area and few providers. And from the day we moved out here and started seeing patients in August 2008, we never lost another dollar.”

What started out as just an initial necessity to help get her practice started has turned into a personal calling.

“Around half of our state’s children are Medicaid recipients. If I only accepted private insurance or self-pay, I would miss out on half of Alabama’s children. It is mission work right here in Lee County. We not only serve the pocket of affluence in Auburn, but there is also a lot of poverty in the surrounding rural areas, and those underprivileged families are why I am here.”

Keri has been able to turn a once-fledgling satellite office struggling to make ends meet into a busy, successful practice where she has watched her many young patients grow up, and formed deep relationships with her patients’ families.

“At this point in my career, I am old enough to have witnessed some tiny, uncooperative tots grow into beautiful, healthy teens heading into college and I absolutely love it. I love seeing them fly.”

Even though her practice still keeps her busy, she and Brent are now empty nesters. Their son, Brooks (22) is a senior at the University of Alabama and their daughter, Mary Helen (18) is a freshman at Samford University. With a daughter in school in Birmingham and a son in Tuscaloosa, the Millers have found themselves in Birmingham frequently in the past few years and quite enjoy revisiting the city they once called home.

“I’ve been back to the School numerous times! I’ve been a regular facilitator for Ethics Day, spoken at ground rounds for the Pediatric residents and I am hopeful to join as a regular adjunct faculty member in the department soon. I really love to teach and to mentor. Clinical pediatric dentistry is super fun!”

While Dr. Miller certainly has plenty of knowledge to share with students on the clinical side, she wants new, young dentists to make proper treatment of their patients their number one priority.

“Treat your patients and staff as you would treat your family, and you will never be at a loss for more. It is not about the teeth. It is about the people.”