The Best Dental Schools in Virginia

Everyone knows that the medical field has some of the most respected and profitable careers, and dentistry is no exception. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dentistry will only grow over the next few years, raising their already impressive $164,010 annual salary. With such an incredible career ahead of them, future dentists should be diligent in choosing the school to learn their trade. 

As one of the first states in the union, Virginia has much to offer those looking for a degree. In addition to the beautiful scenery and numerous historical locations, Virginia is home to some of the oldest and most important higher education institutions in the United States. However, there is just one crucial thing that the state lacks: a variety of dental schools. In fact, there’s only one dental school in Virginia, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in Richmond. 

That might sound like a warning against studying dentistry in Virginia but make no mistake: Virginia Commonwealth University is one of the best schools in the country, and its dental school deserves all the acclaim it has earned. 

Since 1838, Virginia Commonwealth University has trained leaders in every medical field. Today, the school continues that proud tradition, thanks to its two main campuses in Monroe Park (90.6 acres) and its 52.3-acre medical campus. Working off of a record-breaking $1.99 billion endowment, the school leads the way in research and innovation. Those statistics mean not only that students in the program will have the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research projects, but they’ll also get the chance to study under experts in their field. Research endowments attract the best of the best, and that’s an advantage for students. 

Not sold yet? Well, don’t worry, because there’s a lot more to learn about studying dentistry at Virginia Commonwealth University. In this article, College Gazette will cover all of the benefits that the school offers its students, and then we’ll give some advice on getting accepted into their program. 


Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry (Richmond, VA)

Virginia Commonwealth University
photo via Wikimedia Commons

As the only dental school in the state, VCU Dentistry wouldn’t have to do much to stand out. But despite the lack of competition, this school has no interest in doing the bare minimum. Instead, VCU Dentistry strives to find new ways of advancing the field, which trains some of the best dentists in the country. 

VCU Dentistry has been pursuing this goal since it first opened its doors in 1893. Since that time, the school has worked to educate highly qualified dental professionals, develop research that advances our understanding of oral health, and perform acts of service to the community. 

To aid its goals, the school partners with the Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center. While doing rotations in the center, students gain experience working with real-world cases, all under the watchful eye of their supervisors. They get first-hand knowledge of a patient’s needs and concerns, preparing them for the scenarios they’ll encounter in their own practices. And as the only major dental medical center in the state, VCU students experience some of the most critical cases in their field, thereby expanding their knowledge. 

Working within the VCU Medical Center is part of each degree in the program, which includes a doctorate in dental surgery and a bachelor’s in dental hygiene, as well as several advanced education programs and an international dentistry program. On each of these tracks, students learn core scientific concepts and theories from experienced faculty and gain hands-on experience in well-appointed labs. These resources give students the skills and judgment abilities needed in the practice of general dentistry. 

In addition to its first-class faculty, VCU Dentistry has an unparalleled research program. At the center of this program is the VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health Research (PIOHR).

Featuring 15 principal investigators, each with teams of 70 to 80 scientists, PIOHR consists of three sub-centers: the Massey Cancer Center, the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and the School of Medicine. In addition, PIOHR works closely with the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research. 

PIOHR follows two main research programs, one for cancer research and another for bacterial infection and inflammation. In addition, the institute is developing programs in bioengineering and health disparities, finding new ways to approach the field. VCU Dental graduate students can collaborate with PIOHR to study microbiology and immunology, oral health research, or their own research agendas. With such a robust research institution supporting them, students will benefit from seeing a wide range of cases and getting to explore them in a safe and supportive environment.  

These unique resources have earned VCU Dental recognition from major organizations. On April 24th, 2021, the American Association of Endodontists presented the Coolidge Award to Dean Clara Spatafore, citing her work as a role model at the school. In the past year, two VCU Dental faculty members were named Revere Scholars from the university, each for their work advancing the school’s goals. That same year, one of the school’s faculty members received the prestigious Olav Alvares Award, given to early-career scholars who publish outstanding articles in the Journal of Dental Education, for her article “Impact of Community-Based Clinical Training on Dental Students’ Confidence in Treating Pediatric Patients.”

In addition to these individual achievements, VCU Dental’s programs are highly ranked across all of the major outlets. Higherlearningtoday.com puts the school among its best value schools, alongside the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. Dentalcolleges.com includes VCU Dentistry among the top 25 dental colleges in the United States, citing its variety of degrees offered. 

The widely respected U.S. News & World Report also gives VCU recognition. The outlet puts VCU Dental #80 on its list of Top Performers in Social Mobility and #77 in Top Public Schools. These rankings show that VCU Dental is one of the best schools in the nation, despite having no competition in its state. 

Over its more than 100 years of history, VCU Dental has been proud to include some of the most influential figures in the field in its faculty. From 1970 – 1976, legendary leader and fundraiser John DiBiaggio served as dean, significantly increasing the school’s sphere of influence. Since 1984, pioneering oral and maxillofacial surgeon Daniel Laskin has taught at VCU, bringing his years of experience and knowledge to the next generation. 

As this outline shows, VCU Dental deserves to be considered by every serious future dentist. Even without other schools to compete against, VCU Dental remains focused on pushing the field forward and equipping students for every challenge they will meet. The institution has a long history of creating excellent dentists, and it shows no signs of slowing down. 


How to Get Accepted into the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry 

As you might expect, VCU Dental has high admission standards. Only 4% of those who apply to the school receive offers of admission. On average, students have a 3.6 GPA and a score of 20 on the DAT. Those are high grades to be sure, but those who fall a bit short shouldn’t give up right away. Like all of the best schools, VCU Dental doesn’t just look at numbers. Instead, they look at the character of the person they’re interviewing. A strong applicant takes advantage of that broader perspective and does not rely on mere grades. 

Applying to VCU Dental differs according to the different programs, but they do share some commonalities. Like nearly every other dental school, VCU requires potential students to complete the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSAS), the centralized application service for all U.S. dental schools. 

In addition to an $85 application fee, students must also send three letters of recommendation. Two of these letters should be from life science professors who have worked with the student. The other letter must be from a practicing dentist who can speak to the student’s professional abilities. 

To secure a good letter of recommendation, one should start early. Figure out which professors have strong reputations in the field you plan to enter and take steps to work with them. Take several classes with them and volunteer with them to establish a working relationship. And of course, be sure to earn good grades in their classes. 

Because the school also expects a letter from a practicing dentist, students would do well to volunteer with those who are respected in the field. Working with a professional will not only help you gain experience, but also build relationships that will reflect well on your application. You want your recommender to see the qualities you bring as a dentist, qualities they can recommend when the school considers your application. 

Letters of recommendation speak to your abilities and characters more than any other part of the application. But with good grades and a strong letter, you’ll have the best chance of being one of those rare people who get accepted into VCU Dental. 

Once accepted, you’ll be able to join the school’s proud tradition of knowledgeable and forward-thinking dentists. You’ll understand why Virginia is so proud of its sole dental school.

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