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How to Become a Dentist in West Virginia

Dentistry is a lucrative and highly-respected oral health profession. It offers multiple specializations and practice options, including general dentistry and specialties such as oral surgery. Whether they are providing general or specialized care, dentists have numerous career opportunities, such as in private practice and public health. They can also seek employment in a dental clinic or teach at a dental school.

Along with the excellent compensation and other perks that dentists receive come strict state regulations and academic standards. Most practicing general dentists hold a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from a state-approved program. Their years of higher education allow them to treat patients across all age groups, including children.

Dentists also learn to use advanced equipment to diagnose and treat dental issues during training.

West Virginia State Requirements for Dentists

The West Virginia Board of Dentistry regulates the profession and issues licenses to qualified dentists in the state. It stipulates the prerequisite academic standards and tests dentists must pass for permission to practice. Its prelicensing requirements include:

  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Earning a minimum diploma from a program that’s accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or equivalent
  • Passing an approved national dental examination
  • Passing a board-recognized clinical exam
  • Passing the state’s dental law assessment test

Besides meeting these requirements, license applicants must send an official dental school transcript directly to the state dentistry board. Also, an appointed board member interview is part of the licensing process for those who took their law exam outside of West Virginia. All dentists in the state must take up continuing education and provide proof of it to renew their license every two years.

West Virginia State Board Examinations for Dentists

All dentists must pass at least three board-approved examinations for a license to practice in West Virginia. By passing the exam set by the Joint Commission on

National Dental Examinations (JCNDE), applicants demonstrate possession of the knowledge and ability necessary to provide effective and safe oral care. They must also pass the West Virginia Dental Law exam.

To prove their clinical knowledge before the West Virginia Board of Dentistry, applicants must complete testing with one of the following examining bodies:

When applying for your dentistry license, you should request that the relevant examining bodies or commissions send your test results directly to the state’s dentistry board.

West Virginia University (WVU) School of Dentistry

Doctor of Dental Surgery

WVU is the only university in West Virginia with a recognized dental school program. Its four-year DDS degree course is an excellent option for dentists seeking higher education for career progression in private practice, public health, research, and academics. It includes training in modern dentistry techniques such as digital radiography, laser therapy and dental simulation.

WVU DDS Program Admission Requirements

Before applying to the DDS program at WVU, you should complete three years of relevant college education in a U.S. or Canadian institution of higher learning. At least 90 semester credit hours are mandatory for all applicants, including three in anatomy, eight in physics and six in English composition. Other prerequisite courses are:

  • Biology
  • General or organic chemistry
  • Biochemistry

Additionally, applicants must submit Dental Admission Test (DAT) results attained within the past three years.

Aspiring dentists who satisfy specific requirements may apply to the DDS course through any of the university’s early admission programs. This study opportunity is available to select students from participating universities, including Slippery Rock University, West Virginia State University and Shepherd University.

The DDS Curriculum at WVU

The dental surgery doctorate program at WVU covers various aspects of dental care and dentistry practice, including clinical, professional, biomedical and behavioral. Students at the university access academic instruction in multiple formats. By graduation time, they must demonstrate the ability to provide dental care safely, ethically and independently. Some of the coursework that prepares WVU trainees for success as dentistry practitioners include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Patient treatment and management
  • Diagnosing dental conditions
  • Patient evaluation
  • Oral disease prevention
  • Technical skills for dentistry
  • Practice management

Experiential Learning

To earn a doctor of dental surgery degree at WVU, trainees must accumulate at least six weeks of practical dentistry experience at local dental clinics or hospitals. Clinical rotation at a facility in rural West Virginia is also a graduation prerequisite for DDS students. Further real-life exposure in fields like nursing, medicine and pharmacy is available to participants of the dental school’s various outreach and collaborative programs within and beyond the state.

Career Opportunities After Dental School

Most societies around the world hold dentistry in high esteem. According to the WVU dental school, the occupation is one of the few in the health sector that allows practitioners to have proper work-personal life balance. Many dentists who choose a conventional career path in the industry run their own private practices. Others may apply to work in hospitals, dental clinics or the public health sector after graduation. 

You can also pursue a teaching career in dentistry if you have higher-education credentials like a DDS. Some alternative jobs like military or research may seem a bit unconventional for aspiring dentists. Still, qualified professionals can earn a good, honest living working in these areas. Likewise, the manufacturing industry is a potential career destination for those passionate about making dental prosthetics like implants, braces or bridges.

Common professional designations for dentists include:

  • General dentist: This role entails solving the dental care needs of individuals, families and children in the community. Services offered include oral examinations, removal, restoration and replacement of damaged teeth, and educating patients on dental hygiene. 
  • Periodontist: These dentists specialize in treating gum disease by operating on gums and the supporting structures or tissues.
  • Public health specialist: Dentists can work in the public sector to establish dental health policies or programs with community-wide implications.
  • Prosthodontist: Prosthodontists provide “artificial teeth” and other appliances to patients with missing or damaged teeth.
  • Endodontist: Endodontists specialize in complications of a tooth’s dental nerves and interior parts (pulp).

Like everywhere across the country, most general dentists in West Virginia earn a decent salary. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates their mean hourly and annual pay at $66.92 and $139,200, respectively. On average, dental care specialists in the state earn more ($74.50 per hour and $154,960 annually).

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