Austin Toler is a fourth-year student in the UMMC School of Dentistry.
Austin Toler is a fourth-year student in the UMMC School of Dentistry.
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Front and Center: Austin Toler

Published on Monday, July 24, 2023

By: Ruth Cummins

Photos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC Communications

“Like father, like son” didn’t necessarily apply to Austin Toler, whose father and grandfather are dentists.

“My family always said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a dentist, just like your dad,’” Toler remembered. “I was a little strong-willed, but independent. I said, ‘No, I’m going to do my own thing.’”

Today, Toler is doing his own thing – as a fourth-year student in the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry. Coming around to oral health care as a career was a process that culminated in what he found to be a true calling.

“From a very young age, I was working with my hands: drawing, building models, carving things out of wood,” said Toler, a Ridgeland resident who grew up in Madison. “Throughout high school, I wanted to do architecture, engineering, medicine. I was always interested in cars, and I bought an old truck and restored it from the ground up.”

When not at the School of Dentistry, Austin Toler enjoys woodworking.
When not at the School of Dentistry, Toler enjoys woodworking.

He talked to engineers and found that they spent a lot of time at their desk, not doing hands-on work. As a pre-medicine student at Mississippi College, Toler considered that field as a way to work with his hands and help people. The next step was studying for his medical school entrance exam, but his enthusiasm was waning. “My mom asked if I’d ever thought of dentistry,” Toler said. “I said honestly, no.

“But I looked into it. It had everything I was looking for.”

He took a gap year after college. “I’d missed the application cycle for dental school, and I ended up working as my dad’s assistant,” he said.

The assistant for Dr. Noel K. “Trey” Toler III had retired after 27 years. “My dad said, ‘You need a job, and you’re going to work with me for a year.’” Trey Toler’s father is retired Jackson dentist Dr. Noel K. Toler Jr.

His time at his father’s Jackson practice was eye-opening. “I didn’t learn a whole lot about the academic side of dentistry, but what it did teach me is the big picture,” Toler said. “I understood treatment planning and goals. When I went to dental school, the technicalities made sense because I understood the big picture.”

Toler juggles school with family, including his wife Madeline, a labor and delivery nurse and his high school and college sweetheart, and 2-year-old Samuel. Samuel’s sibling is due in December. “He knows he’s having a little sister, but he might not understand what all is coming with that,” Toler said.

At the SOD, it’s not all labs and classes for Toler. He’s using his love for construction and creative nature to give clinic patients a creature comfort.

The school’s Careful and Kind Patient Care Committee, a volunteer group of faculty and staff who are passionate about improving SOD patients’ experience, sought a student with carpentry experience to construct a coffee station for clinic patients. Toler stepped up to the plate.

“It’s replacing a place where a water fountain was,” said Toler, who’s using his woodworking skills to fashion the second-floor cabinet that will house a Keurig coffee maker, selections of coffee and tea, and all the accoutrements.

Portrait of Dr. James Lott

Toler is “a very kind, diligent, and well-prepared student,” said Dr. James Lott, SOD assistant dean for education and associate professor in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences.

“I have enjoyed working alongside him and watching him grow in his confidence and witnessing his desire and passion for learning new options and ways to treat patients,” Lott said. “It is enjoyable working with students like Austin that have the patient’s best at heart and his desire to seek and understand how to provide the best individualized treatment for each of his patients.”

As a future general dentistry practitioner, Toler said, he will “really enjoy the opportunity to tailor your practice to the things you like to do. I like the restorative side of things, and the idea of doing bigger cases such as full-mouth reconstruction.

 “I don’t want to limit myself to doing one thing. As a general dentist, I can do a variety of things and have the option of referring to a specialist if needed.”

He will be doing what he’s always wanted to do: use his hands.

“They say that one of the most notable things about a person is the quality of their smile,” Toler said. Because of their teeth, “some people don’t feel like they can smile, and this can result in a lack of self-confidence.

“It’s very fulfilling to be able to give people back their smile and their confidence to meet new people and put themselves out there.”

“With his passion for patient care and his diligence to learn, I have no doubt that Austin will be a very good dentist in the community in which he lands,” Lott said.

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