The road from college freshman to dental school graduate takes eight years to travel and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. After graduation, you’re ready to begin your practice in an influential and honorable profession.
Despite the costs involved in a dental education, some studies show that the return on investment is better than in many other professions. Despite this, dentists still tend to rack up a lot of debt.
The average debt for dental school graduates is $285,184 when considering both debt from undergrad years and dental school.
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Average Dental School Student Debt
It’s a safe bet that most dental students don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars available to pay for their education, so having to use federal student loans and even sometimes private student loans is necessary.
Using 2018 figures, the American Student Dental Association reports the average debt for all indebted dental school graduates is $285,184.
That’s a four-fold increase over 1990’s figure. About 80% of dental school graduates from the class of 2018 reported having student debt exceeding $100,000. This includes the average student loan debt from undergraduate years.
Ways to Limit Dental School Debt
Dental school graduates can employ a few strategies to reduce their indebtedness.
Look for Tuition Reduction or Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
One option is to become a dentist in an underserved community that qualifies for tuition reduction. At the federal level, there is the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program for dentists who service at an approved Health Profession Shortage Area.
Two years of full-time service (32 hours per week) allows you to discharge up to $50,000 in loan repayments, or half of that for half-time workers. You can receive additional repayment for a third year of service.
Other federal programs to reduce dental school debt include:
- Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
- Army/Air Force Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program
- Army/Navy Healthcare Professions Loan Repayment Program
Look for Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Many states also offer loan repayment programs.
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 $83,511 over four years, with a minimum commitment of two years.
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 qualified student loan borrower, a refinance loan may come with a lower-than-average interest rate, as well as a shorter or longer repayment term.
Costs of Dental School
Your dental education begins in a four-year pre-dentistry undergraduate program that emphasizes the sciences. According to our cost of college statistics, for the 2017-2018 academic year, in-state colleges cost an average of $25,290 annually, while private college costs averaged $50,900.
A four-year undergraduate degree is likely going to cost between $100,000 and $200,000 on average, and considerably more if you attend an Ivy League school. These costs include tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation. Bear in mind that many colleges charge higher tuition for technical and scientific majors.
>> Read More: Best Dental School Loans
Once you’ve received your bachelor’s degree, you are ready to take on the challenge of four years in dental school. The lowest tuition for a four-year dental school program is around $21,000 for in-state schools and $65,000 for non-resident schools per year.
However, you could end up paying a total of $400K at the priciest private dental schools. The amount you pay will depend on several factors, including school tuition, school location, availability of financial aid, and personal expenses.
If you go to an expensive college and dental school, you could easily end up spending half a million dollars before receiving your dental license. When you finish dental school, you receive either a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or a DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree. Some states require a post-doctoral residency of one year instead of taking a licensing exam.
Of course, dentists can continue their education with an additional two to four years training in one of nine advanced specialties such as pediatric dentistry, dental public health, periodontics, and prosthodontics.
Dentists who want to teach or conduct research should expect to spend two to five years in post-doctoral dental training. Taking out additional loans aside from federal aid is not uncommon.
Salary.com reports that, as of July 2019, the median dentist annual salary was $154,667, with a range from $138,109 to $180,862.
Note that some dental practices will help you pay off your student loan bills. For example, dentists who work for Aspen Dental can receive up to $200,000 in loan reimbursement.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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