Dr. Neumeier, a Prosthodontist, Finds a Home with AGD

  • by AGD Staff
  • Jul 11, 2022
Toni NuemeierAGD members are proud of the important role general dentists play within dentistry and healthcare as a whole. However, one might be surprised to learn that AGD has specialist members as well, and that some specialists take very active roles in supporting AGD’s mission and its activities. Toni T. Neumeier, DMD, MAGD, a retired faculty member of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Dentistry and a prosthodontist, is one such specialist. Her roles within AGD have included service on multiple national AGD councils and committees, and she is also a past president of the Alabama AGD. She shared with AGD Impact why AGD is important to her. 

AGD Impact: Why did you want to be a dentist? What made you decide to specialize in prosthodontics? 

Neumeier: My father was a doctor in Taiwan, which inspired me to be a doctor instead of a nurse. My aunt was a general dentist who worked for a hospital, and I lived with her during my undergraduate studies, which influenced me toward dentistry. Prior to dental school, I worked for four years as a research assistant in the UAB pharmacology department. There, I met two faculty members who encouraged me to fulfill my desire to obtain advanced education in dental school. I was interviewed by the dental school admission committee on a Wednesday and was informed of my acceptance that Friday, even though I was six months pregnant and almost 10 years older than most of my classmates. I requested a one-year delay of my admission in order to have my first son and set up childcare. 

Life at dental school was extremely hard for me due to my lack of background knowledge in physiology and human anatomy, plus a language barrier. I had to work harder than my classmates to overcome all the challenges that I faced daily. Only the preclinical laboratory courses were easy for me, as I loved to work with wax. Waxing and carving restorations were easy, and I had fun developing these hand skills. For this reason, prosthodontics became one of my favorite topics. One senior clinical faculty member, who was the director of the graduate prosthodontic program, encouraged me to apply. Upon graduation, it was not an easy decision between an offer to work for a general dentist as an associate in Atlanta or going to a graduate prosthodontic program. I believe a lack of self-confidence as a newly graduated dentist, plus trepidation about moving to a different town, impacted my decision to choose a graduate school program versus practicing right away. Even now, I am glad that I made that choice. During my two years in the graduate prosthodontic program, I built self-confidence, and it allowed me to implement most of the dental knowledge I had learned at dental school; it also gave me a chance to train as a clinical faculty member. 

What has your professional journey been like? 

Right after graduating from the residency program, I was hired by UAB as half-time clinical-track faculty, and, for the rest of my time, I rented two different practices to provide dental service to the local community — mainly for Mandarin-speaking patients who wanted someone who spoke their native language. Without practice management experience to run the office and with an inconsistent availability of dental assistants, this only lasted for one year. In the summer of 1992, a full-time faculty position became available at UAB, so I was eager to transfer my small private practice to the faculty practice. This lasted until I retired from the dental school in 2020; but, even now, I still have patients who want me to treat them. For this reason, I was hired as an associate clinician working in a former student’s dental practice on an as-needed basis. 

While at UAB, my academic assignments included lecturing, clinical teaching and research. I was assigned as course director for several prosthodontic courses and developed a quality assurance system for D3 and D4 student laboratory cases, plus had multiple schoolwide committee assignments. Overall, it was a very busy 29 years and a full academic career. Even though I retired from full academic assignments, I still teach in the student clinic once a week. 

How does a specialist become such an involved AGD member? What makes you so passionate about this organization?

Dr. Milton Essig (retired faculty) was Alabama AGD’s UAB liaison; he introduced AGD to D1 students in 1985, and Alabama AGD also paid for all student member fees throughout their four dental school years. Since I worked closely with Essig on my teaching assignment, after graduating from dental school I continued my AGD membership. In 2009, Essig retired from the dental school and passed the liaison torch to me, which started a new chapter of my involvement with AGD. I started attending Alabama AGD board meetings to report student activities. A few years later, I helped establish an Alabama AGD Student Chapter at the UAB School of Dentistry, and it has been recognized for its growth and community service. In addition, I was recruited as a speaker host for the Alabama annual meetings. Dr. Howard Gamble (past AGD president) strongly recommended that I accept the challenge as Alabama AGD president in 2017, which allowed me to be more engaged. Drs. Glenn Miller (AGD trustee), Carter Brown (past AGD president) and Carol Wooden (past AGD trustee) frequently attended Alabama AGD annual meetings and also encouraged me to be involved with AGD national committees. Gamble recommended me to the Fellowship Exam Committee for six years, and Dr. Connie White (past AGD president) gave me the opportunity to serve on the Scientific Meeting Council. I am on my third year with that council and also have accepted the role of education program director for the AGD 2022 scientific session. The bottom line is that if you dedicate yourself to working hard on your interests, the rewards are tremendous. 

In 1997, I decided to take the Fellowship Exam. Ten years later, I decided to join the MasterTrack program at UAB to refresh and update all the dental knowledge I had learned 20 years ago. This was a very rewarding experience and encouraged me to keep up with current trends in dentistry. 

What do you feel are AGD’s strengths as an organization? Its weaknesses? 

Both AGD and Alabama AGD welcomed me as a family member regardless of my background; this meant a lot to me as a foreigner not born in the United States who speaks English with an accent. Also significantly, the educational programs within AGD are top-notch. As for weaknesses, I believe AGD needs quicker and more efficient responses to AGD member requests and that past AGD presidents should be more involved with AGD councils and committees. 

What other hobbies do you have? How has retirement from academic dentistry been? 

Gardening with 90 rosebushes in the yard as well as 100 potted plants, along with flower arranging, reading and traveling, are my endeavors. My retirement life now is expressed in this equation: Part-time paid dentistry + part-time volunteer dentistry = full-time dentistry. A most rewarding aspect is my volunteer service at a local community center for abused women (The Lovelady Center in Birmingham, Alabama) to provide digital and removable partial dentures to a very special group of women so they can ultimately leave the center with bright smiles on their faces as they prepare to start new lives.