Dr. Michelle Ireland

An inspiring mission trip turns into a passion for practice

Devoting time to serve as an adjunct faculty member at a dental school while running and managing a busy practice and balancing family life is a huge commitment. The UAB School of Dentistry is proud to have had some of the most dedicated part- and full-time faculty around, including Dr. Michelle Ireland, whose dedication to teaching young dental students and prosthodontic residents during her early career is hard to match.

“I worked part-time at the School from 1999 until 2008. I started with just one day a week, but soon increased to two-and-a-half days a week. I would see patients at my prosthodontic clinic in Chattanooga, Tenn. each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning, and would leave at lunchtime. Because of the time change, I could be in Birmingham to work in the Prosthodontic clinic by Wednesday afternoon and teach on Thursday and Friday, then drive back home to Chattanooga.”

While Dr. Ireland quickly discovered her passion for teaching, it took her a bit longer to find the path that ultimately led her to dentistry.

“When I was young, I had all my dental work done with no anesthetic except for nitrous. It was not a great experience so, needless to say, I wasn’t keen on the profession. After high school, I went to Judson College and majored in Chemistry. Upon graduation, I’d planned to take a year off from school and work, but then return to medical school. But right after I graduated, I went on a mission trip to South Africa where I was supposed to be stationed with a medical doctor, but ended up with a dentist instead. It’s funny to think about now – I had to go all the way to Africa to fall in love with dentistry!”

Michelle initially expected to pursue pediatric dentistry because she’d intended to become a medical pediatrician.

“I worked the first two years of dental school with the pediatric dentistry department. Dr. John Thornton was nice enough to let me hang around with the residents, so I was able to take call with them and sit in during surgeries. But when it came to the summer after my junior year, I realized that I preferred the more complex cases that prosthodontics offers. I always said prosthodontics is like putting puzzles together. There are multiple ways to get there, but you have to first figure out the best treatment plan for how to get there.”

Dr. Ireland started her prosthodontic residency immediately following her graduation from dental school in 1994.

“For most of my residency, I thought I’d go straight into teaching. But the timing just wasn’t right, so I started thinking about private practice. Near the end of my residency, my husband, David, went on a weekend retreat in Chattanooga, and really loved the area. Those were still the days of phone books, so I checked to see if there were any prosthodontists, and when I saw that there weren’t, we decided to make the move to Tennessee.”

Eventually, in 2012, Michelle decided to close the doors of her Chattanooga office and join the Atlanta, Ga. practice of her fellow UAB classmate and prosthodontic co-resident, Dr. Ashley Curington. For six years, she worked full-time with Dr. Curington and loved it. But she continued to see some of her Chattanooga patients once a week at an office in LaFayette, Ga., just across the Georgia-Tennessee state line (which she still does today). In 2018, she started to feel the urge to own her own practice again.

“I had driven by this little practice in Free Home, Ga. during my commute for many years, and had watched several dentists come and go. I knew I wanted an office of my own in a smaller community. I love the feel of a small community, I think because I grew up in a small town myself, and have grown to appreciate it even more as I have gotten older.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the area Dr. Ireland’s practice was located in in Free Home was converted into six lanes of traffic, and the spot where her building stood was zoned to become a retention pond.

“When I bought it, I had no idea I’d be moving three years later,” admitted Michelle. “But we found a great location in downtown Ball Ground, Ga. and after a few updates and renovations to the old building our office is housed in, we moved in November of 2021.”

Dr. Ireland wants young dentists who are just starting out to consider practicing in a smaller area of their state right from the beginning.

“There’s just something about small towns, and it’s wonderful to get to know the community and help people with their smiles! I think it is really important to always remember that dentistry is not just a job, but a profession. It can change a patient’s life.”