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State Licensure Spotlight: California

Dr. Ian MurrayDr. Ian R. Murray, Western '13
2012-13 chair, Council on Advocacy

This content was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Advocacy Brief.

There are three routes to a dental license in California:

  1. Graduate from dental school, pass the WREB, apply for a license.
  2. Apply for a license after completing a one year post-graduate residency.
  3. Work as a licensed dentist in another state for at least three years and apply for a California dental license.

I went for route 1.

My advice: As my clinical dean said frequently the "5 Ps" (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance) will keep you out of trouble in dental school and this holds true for the licensure process as well. My experience with California dental schools is that not much emphasis is placed on teaching the licensure process until the fourth year. I can only imagine this is due to the fact that you also face two National Board Examinations and dental school graduation to qualify for a license anywhere. Your dental school's main purpose is to graduate qualified dentists, not to get you licensed. The licensure part falls on you, but your school wants you to be successful so they help where they can. Ultimately licensure comes from the state dental board and you must pass the licensure exam, currently the WREB, which may be hosted at your university, but all of the graders are imported. Read more about the licensure process.

The basics: To have a successful licensure application you must include the application, application fee, fingerprint submission, score report from the National Board Exams, score report from the WREB exam, and successful completion of the state's dental Law & Ethics exam. The application includes a page that can serve as your proof of graduation. It must include your dean's signature and the seal of the dental school. Our dean included these completed forms, if you asked for them ahead of time, with our degrees at graduation. If you want to submit your application before graduation you will need to provide proof of graduation to the board after graduation for your application to be processed.

Graduate/National Board Exams: You are on track to graduate! You studied hard, passed your exams, practiced dentistry at a high level in your school's clinic (and rotation sites), your faculty love you, you buckled down and studied and passed (or were on track to pass) your National Board Exams. As far as my University was concerned, this was a given if you wanted approval to take the licensure exam.

WREB Exam: Read the manual, know the manual, live the manual. Treat WREB type restorations in clinic based on the manual's guidelines. Screen patients six months (or more) ahead of time, have backups, pick the easiest cases possible. Do not wait to treat larger lesions or periodontitis if it will compromise the health of the patient, use these patients to practice. Moderate to large interproximal lesions and big perio cases are not what you want to put yourself through on exam day. Save quality extracted teeth, X-ray them early, conebeam if you can (no surprises), pick straightforward teeth for the endo exam. Have back-ups pre mounted/X-rayed/ready. Take the written portion of the exam early - it's good to get it out of the way. Practice in the simulation clinic, practice asking for extensions. I cannot stress enough that you need to know the WREB manual (and you can have it with you during the clinical exam). Avoiding simple (submission) mistakes will save time and headaches.
The state board: Read ahead of time what they need from you to process your license. Four to six weeks before graduation, you should contact the board to ensure that they have your national board score report. The JCNDE website says it can take up to four weeks to process a score report order, so order it early if you need to. Apply early to take the Law & Ethics exam, it took a week or more for me to hear back that I was eligible to schedule the exam. The application on the DBC website (you will need the dean's signature on the application). As soon as you graduate send your application for your license. You will need the proof of graduation with the dean's signature and university seal. Our dean wouldn't sign it until we graduated so I sent it the day after graduation. Include your exam report from the WREB, the DBC accepted the PDF that the WREB provided free of charge. Processing the application can take a while. Make sure everything that is supposed to be submitted is submitted. I suggest contacting the board to ensure they have everything they need. I used e-mail and had great luck. Be courteous and grateful/thankful of what they do for you, give them what they ask for and check in to ensure they received what they needed. My license was fully processed and available online two weeks after graduation.

To summarize licensure in California:

  • You must graduate
  • You must pass both National Board Exams (part I and II)
  • You must pass Licensure Exam
  • You must pass the state dental Law & Ethics exam
  • You must apply for a license from the state dental board

Please refer to Dental Board of California for complete information.

Find out about licensure in other states by visiting our licensure map.

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