Mark Miller, M.D., D.M.D., clinical assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, exemplifies what it means to be a community leader on a daily basis. With an accomplished military background in the U.S. Army Reserve, Dr. Miller has had the opportunity to travel the world in pursuit of providing children with life-changing health care.
After several years in private practice dentistry, Dr. Miller was deployed to Afghanistan for a year to work on a civil affairs team that dealt with humanitarian aid and nation-building. While there, he extracted over 3,000 teeth from local children.
“One of the things that’s helpful in that country is providing dental care, because people don’t have access to routine dentistry and can face fatalities from tooth and gum diseases,” he said.
Changed by the experience, he knew he wanted to do more with his skills when he returned home. “I had never been exposed to poverty like what I had seen in Afghanistan and was ready to put greater efforts toward helping children,” he said.
After meeting a pediatric craniofacial surgeon, Dr. Miller became inspired by the surgeon’s work.
“Kids don’t get to decide what happens to them,” he said. “Sometimes they have to deal with things far outside of their doing. And I thought, how neat to be able to help children with cleft and craniofacial differences — we’re truly changing these children’s lives forever. That’s why I decided I wanted to apply to oral and maxillofacial surgery programs.”
In 2008, Dr. Miller was given mobilization orders to Iraq, where he served as the Iraqi Theater Dental Consultant for Multinational Forces.
It was during this time that he was able to provide more health care to local citizens, all while using his few days of rest and relaxation to interview for residency programs He was matched with his top pick, University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville. Dr. Miller completed his residency in general surgery and maxillofacial surgery and was then selected for a fellowship at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida.
From there, he was recruited to UT Health San Antonio by Edward Ellis, D.D.S., department chair of the oral and maxillofacial surgery department.
Dr. Ellis “wanted to bring me to San Antonio because he knew there was a need at UT Health San Antonio for someone with my training,” Dr. Miller said. “I came on board in 2017 with the intent of bringing that experience from an intense cleft and craniofacial center, and that’s what we’ve been working on ever since.”
Dr. Ellis has built a relationship with the Smiles International Foundation in Tecate, Mexico, Dr. Miller said.
“We run a cleft team there twice a year where we care for the children that can’t get surgery anywhere else,” he added. “We bring speech-language pathologists and social workers to create a comprehensive team for these children. Sometimes, we see them from their first few weeks of life well into their teenage years,” he said, “One patient, in particular, was a baby boy with a bilateral cleft who was in the local orphanage for some time and he had really just been left with an unrepaired lip. We were able to help him by doing his lip repair, only to find out later that he had been adopted as a result.”
Outside of practicing medicine, Dr. Miller and his husband moved to San Antonio in 2017 and became foster parents; placed with a newborn baby. “We eventually were able to adopt Lillian in October 2019. She came directly from the nursery to us and has been with us ever since. It’s been a whirlwind of a life so far. The key now is to figure out how to slow life down and really enjoy it.”
Dr. Miller has dedicated his life to helping others and plans to continue his overseas work this year.
“I’ve been fortunate to have some incredibly rewarding deployments,” he said.. “This fall, I’ll be deploying again to head a mission at the U.S. Military Hospital in Kuwait. I feel like I’ve gotten the pinnacle of training throughout my career. I’ve been placed in a faculty position where I have tremendous support from my department chair and the university. The nice part about being able to help those with cleft and craniofacial is that we’re really able to make a long-term impact in children’s lives; whether that’s here, in Tecate, Mexico, or in Afghanistan. Kids don’t get to decide where they’re born or what socioeconomic factors they have, so my goal is to provide all those children—no matter where they’re from—with the best level of care possible.”