Women in Dentistry - Clara M. Spatafore

Featuring women in oral health professions

Through a special project named "Women in Dentistry: A Glance Back and a Look Forward", the School of Dentistry celebrates women and their contributions to the healing art and science of dentistry.

Clara M. Spatafore, DDS, MS

WVU School of Dentistry, Class of 1984
MS School of Dentistry, Class of 1989

Meet the Dentist

I grew up in Clarksburg, WV. My entire family had attended West Virginia University, and it never entered my mind to go to a different university. After attending WVU as an undergraduate, I never considered relocating or applying to a different dental school.    My nephew is applying to WVU, and he just informed me that in our family we have 32 degrees from WVU.  So, it would have been treasonous to attend dental school somewhere else. 

Deciding Dentistry

When I was finishing my Medical Technology program at West Virginia University, several of my classmates and I went on interviews at hospital labs around the country.  During those interviews, it became clear to me that I was not ready to finish out my college education and join the workforce.  I thought about medical school as well as podiatry and optometry schools, but after speaking with my cousin, a dentist, I settled on dental school. 

“Difficulties make you a jewel.”

-Japanese Proverb

My first year of dental school was very difficult.  I went from being at the top of my 24-person medical technology class to a dental class with 60 people at or above my level.  The Dental Anatomy lab was very difficult for me. Dr. Foor handed us a green-handled knife and a block of wax and said to carve a tooth.  After my first few attempts with less than stellar grades, I decided I had made a terrible mistake coming to dental school.  I was on my way to Dr. Alberico’s office to discuss withdrawing from dental school when I met two of my classmates in the hall, Jennifer Rice and Paul Rafail.  They both talked me out of dropping out—it proved to be the best decision of my life.  I made it through Dental Anatomy, and, once I was in the pre-doctoral clinic, I knew I had chosen a career that I would love for the rest of my life.  

My career in dentistry has been varied to say the least.  At the end of my fourth year at WVU School of Dentistry, I spoke with Dr. Ed Skidmore and told him I wanted to become an endodontist.  He told me to work as a general dentist for three years and give him a call.  That is exactly what I did.

“Courage is the ultimate career move.”

-T. Anna Quindlen (from Katie Couric’s book The Best Advice I Ever Got

After my two-year endo program at WVU I joined the United States Navy, also another great decision.  While there I had great endodontic experiences, made several lifelong friends and encountered a world totally outside of my WVU home.  After the Navy and while I was in private practice, I became president of the American Association of Endodontics.  I was the second female to ever hold that post.  That is probably the second achievement I am most proud of in my life.  The first is that I have a loving husband of 36 years (also a WVU graduate and Morgantown native) and four wonderful children. 

My son Daniel continued the WVU tradition and went there for both his undergraduate degree and his dental degree.  In his first year of dental school he met his future wife Lena Holz, with whom he practices endodontics in Harrisonburg, VA.  My second son Matthew also attended WVU and then law school in Boston, MA. He now practices in Denver, CO.  My daughter Justina is a veterinarian and will be practicing in Rockville, MD.  My youngest daughter Alyssa is a lawyer and practices in Pittsburgh, PA. 

“Nobody gets to live life backwards. Look ahead, because that’s where your future lies.”

-Ann Landers

I served as the Interim Dean at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry from January 2021 until April 2022. At VCU SOD I was the Chair of Endodontics and Oral Diagnostic Sciences from 2014 to 2022. I retired from dental education in July of 2022 and relocated back to Morgantown, WV. My friend Dr. David Funderburk, also a WVU triple graduate and super fan, said it best: “We hit the genetic jackpot being born in the USA.” I feel that way every day of my life. I grew up with a wonderful extended family, had a great education at WVU, was honored to serve my country in the US Navy and have been blessed with a supportive husband and productive, grateful children. My husband and I are avid pickleball players. During our retirement, we hope to improve our pickleball game and have a list of places we want to visit. Our family keeps growing as with the recent birth of our first grandchild, Lucia Bartling in July of 2022 and hopefully so does the number of family members with degrees from WVU.