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An injury on the football field led to a career in dentistry for Warren Arrasmith, D.M.D.

In the early 1960s, Arrasmith had several front teeth knocked loose while playing football. His subsequent trips to the dental office to repair the injury proved to be a life-altering experience.

warren arrasmith“I spent a lot of time in the dental chair getting my teeth fixed, and it fascinated me,” Arrasmith recalls. “It combines medicine and engineering, and I thought it was really neat that they could do those types of things. That’s what originally got me interested in dentistry.”

That interest has turned into more than a half-century of working in the field, first as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Baptist Medical Center Princeton and UAB Medical West Hospitals, then since 2011 as an associate professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry.

Before doing all that, however, Arrasmith took a lengthy detour through southeast Asia. He graduated from UAB's dental school in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War. With so much uncertainty surrounding the potential of young graduates being drafted, Arrasmith said it was difficult to embark into private practice.

“Nobody wanted to open an office and then find out you had to go serve in the military,” Arrasmith says. “Probably 90 percent of my graduating class went into either the military or some form of public-health service right after dental school.”

Arrasmith chose the military, joining the Air Force and being stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines as a dentist. There were more than 50,000 soldiers stationed at the base, which operated the closest major hospital to Vietnam.

“That was an eye-opening experience for me,” Arrasmith says. “We received a lot of casualties there. I was primarily practicing dentistry from an oral surgery standpoint, but I also received experience treating injuries.

“I picked up a little speed that I had not had as a dental student. And I got to broaden my experience by adding some procedures that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to do otherwise. It was a good experience looking back on it, but I’m not sure I thought so at the time.”

After three years of military service, Arrasmith returned to Birmingham and enrolled in the dental school's Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery program. He finally went into private practice in the mid-1970s.

Then in the late 1990s, Arrasmith began working one day a week in the UAB dental clinic, passing along his decades of expertise to students and residents. He quicky realized that he enjoyed teaching aspiring dentists. So after retiring from private practice, he joined SOD in 2011 as a full-time faculty member and director of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

“I love working with the students. That’s what hooked me on teaching,” Arrasmith says. “It’s nice to be able to influence young people. It’s nice to be able to bring to the table things that you have learned over the years, including the mistakes you’ve made, and help them not make those mistakes or to make corrections.

“I really enjoy it because the students are so enthusiastic. It’s great to see young people who are passionate about what they’re doing. That really sealed the deal that I wanted to do this.”

Even as Arrasmith was teaching, he also was learning. After all, he had never worked full time in academics, and certain aspects of the teaching process were new to him.

“I’d help a student with a problem and they’d asked why I did it that way. I’d think about it and realize I really didn’t know,” Arrasmith said. “I’d just been doing it that way for 30 years and it had worked fine. I hadn’t developed the rationale that justified what I was telling them.

“I had to go back and sort of relearn certain things. I spent a lot of time reviewing different academic disciplines, trying to catch up. It helped having that interaction with people at UAB who are on the cutting edge of surgery and practice. Those were very informative times for me.”

Arrasmith learned enough that in 2020 he received the Daniel M. Laskin Award for Outstanding Predoctoral Educator by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. He also was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southeastern Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the dental students and the faculty we have here at UAB,” Arrasmith says. “They’ve all contributed to my education in some form or fashion.”

It is an education that began 60 years ago from a dentist’s chair following his football mishap. In addition to a career, those trips provided Arrasmith with something else that he has kept throughout the decades.

“The good news is,” Arrasmith says, “I still have those teeth.”