The road from college freshman to dental school graduate takes at least eight years to travel and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars—much of it paid for with student loans.
The average debt for dental school graduates is $292,169 for the class of 2019, according to the American Dental Education Association.
On this page:
- Average dental school student debt
- Ways to limit dental school debt
- Cost of dental school
- Dentist salaries
Average dental school student debt
Most aspiring dentists don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars available to pay for their education. That’s why, according to the ADEA report, 83% of dental school graduates leave with some student loan debt—81% of those with at least $200,000 owed.
The class of 2019’s average debt of $292,169—which includes average student loan debt from undergraduate studies—is more than five times the debt of 1990 graduates.
While some students qualify for enough in federal student loans to cover the cost of attendance for the entire eight years of school, some may have to fill in gaps with private student loans, which can be costlier and less flexible in repayment.
Ways to limit dental school debt
In addition to staying on top of student loan repayment, dental school graduates can employ a few strategies to reduce how much student debt they have to repay.
Look for tuition reduction or student loan forgiveness programs
Several federal programs will help you repay student loans and qualify for student loan forgiveness if you work in a qualifying public service role.
- National Health Service Corps: NHSC loan repayment helps you repay up to $50,000 for working in an NHSC-designated Health Professional Shortage Area.
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment: IHS offers health care professionals working a minimum two years in an underserved area in American Indian and Alaska Native communities up to $40,000 for loan repayment.
- Air Force Health Professions Loan Repayment: Air Force servicemembers who serve at least two years can receive up to $40,000 per year in loan repayment.
- Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment: Navy servicemembers can receive up to $40,000 per year in loan repayment for a minimum of three years’ active duty service.
- Army Health Professions Loan Repayment: Army servicemembers serving active duty for at least three years can receive $40,000 a year in loan repayment, up to $120,000.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Anyone working in a qualifying government, nonprofit, or other public service job while making 120 on-time student loan payments can apply for PSLF to cancel remaining federal student loans.
- Income-driven repayment: The U.S. Department of Education offers several income-driven repayment programs that will align your monthly payment with your income and forgive your student loan debt after a repayment period of 20 or 25 years.
Student loan repayment programs can help you repay private and federal student loans, while student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment are only available for federal loans.
Look for loan repayment assistance in your area
Many states also offer student loan repayment programs (SLRP) for health professionals working in underserved areas.
For example, the California Dental Association Foundation Student Loan Repayment Grant provides up to $105,000 over a three-year period for a minimum of 30 hours per week of work in underserved communities.
The District of Columbia Health Professional Loan Repayment Program provides up to $151,841 over four years, with a minimum commitment of two years to work in a designated HPSA.
To find programs like this in your area, look up your state’s NHSC contact.
Consider refinancing student loans
Another strategy to handle the crushing weight of dental school debt is to refinance student loans with a private lender. For a creditworthy student loan borrower, a refinance loan can lower your interest rate and monthly payment.
Cost of dental school
Your dental education begins in a four-year pre-dentistry undergraduate program that emphasizes the sciences. Our annual cost of college statistics show these average costs for the 2017-2018 academic year:
- Public in-state tuition: $9,970
- Private school tuition: $34,740
- Public in-state total cost of attendance: $25,290
- Private school total cost of attendance: $50,900
A four-year undergraduate degree will cost on average around $100,000 or more than $200,000, including tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation.
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Next, you’ll have four years of postgraduate studies in dental school to earn a D.D.S. or D.M.D degree.
According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average dental school tuition for the 2008-2009 academic year was $54,774. That adds about $400,000 to your education costs.
The amount you pay depends on several factors, including school tuition, location, availability of financial aid, and personal expenses.
The idea behind getting an expensive education is that your degree will help you earn more money in your career. In exchange for a pricy degree, dentists earn well above average income.
While NCES reports a median full-time income for adults with just a bachelor’s degree is $50,500, Salary.com reports that, as of October 2019, the average dentist annual salary was $155,668, with a range from $139,1013 to $182,040.
Some dental practices also offer student loan repayment as a benefit. For example, dentists who work for the national company Aspen Dental can receive up to $200,000 in loan reimbursement.