How Much Do Dentists Make? Average Salary by State

Article Summary:

Though the average dentist salary varies from $110,000 to over $265,000, depending on location and specialty, dentists in most locations average over $170,000. The national median salary for dentists in 2020 was about $164,000. These salaries are obviously attractive, but many dentists do have to contend with shocking levels of student debt at graduation.

A bright smile can carry you far, and so can a career that helps people get the smiles they want to have. In every corner of the world, dentistry is a major medical industry. It’s known for being well paid and well respected. Did you ever wonder how much dentists make?

Choosing to be a dentist comes with a lot of perks and pitfalls. It’s time to take a look at whether this is the right career path for you.

The average dentist’s salary varies from $110,037 in Rhode Island to $265,802 in South Dakota. Most dentists will earn between $170,000 and $190,000 per year after five years of work experience.

What does a dentist do?

Dentists are the people you go to when you need to fill cavities, get root canals, whiten your teeth, or treat gum disease. They can specialize in endodontics, cosmetic dentistry, or dental implants. They work in private practices and occasionally will work in hospitals.

What kind of education does being a dentist require?

Dentists are full-fledged doctors, which means that you need to have a bachelor’s degree, in order to qualify for dental school admission, and a doctorate, in order to practice. More importantly, in addition to graduating from a dentistry school, you have to complete a residency in a proper professional setting and get certified.

In most states, a practicing dentist may have one of two doctoral degrees: Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD). Dentists may also earn Master of Science in Dentistry (MSD) degrees and various postgraduate certificates. Licensure and continuing education requirements vary by state.

It can easily take about eight years to fulfill these requirements and become a dentist. It’s a career choice that has to be thoughtfully planned out.

How much does dentistry school cost?

Dental students have to pay over $70,000 per year when they are studying their craft. On average, this leaves a typical dentist with a shocking $304,824 in debt at graduation.

It’s not unusual for dentists to have a lot of debt. Like doctors, dentists who realize too late that they don’t want to be dentists, after all, may call it a “million-dollar mistake.” If you choose to study a specialization, attend one of the more costly schools, or just delay paying your debt while it compounds, you actually could end up with a million in debt. In March of 2018, a report by the Wall Street Journal noted that 101 people in the U.S. had $1 million or more in student debt.

Why is dental school so expensive?

These sorts of “why” questions are rarely as simple and straightforward as they seem. As well, the answers one finds plausible often vary depending on one’s politics.

Most should agree, however, that whenever a career requires a great deal of education and licenses that are difficult to obtain and maintain in order to practice, qualified practitioners will be in short supply. This makes them able to demand higher prices for the services only they can legally provide. This, in turn, makes prospective students willing to take on more debt to join the ranks of these professionals. This means higher demand for dental education, which in turn means higher prices for that education.

Could dental paraprofessionals bring about a drop in dental school costs?

One proposal to reduce the cost of dental services is to allow so-called “dental therapists” to provide many of the services that, at present, only dentists can legally offer in most states. As a Huffington Post writer observes, this proposal has faced “intense opposition from some organized dental groups,” since, of course, it would mean increased competition and decreased prices for the services these paraprofessionals could offer. Dentists who have already paid the high cost of dental education on the assumption that they would not face such competition from non-dentists naturally lack enthusiasm for the proposal.

Still, should this proposal be widely implemented, the demand for full dental doctoral programs might drop as some students opt to pursue the shorter and less costly dental therapist career path. At the same time, the cost of dental therapist education would likely rise as that career became more lucrative.

Additional factors that might contribute

The short supply and high demand for dentists may not be the only factor keeping dentistry school expensive. The easy availability of government-backed loans, the hope of obtaining loan forgiveness in some cases, and the ability of those with debt exceeding their annual income to reduce monthly payments through income driven repayment plans may all make it easier for dental students to take on more debt. Taken together, all the contributing factors may mean that there is practically no upward limit on dental school prices. And, because prices are able to rise freely, schools needn’t learn to streamline administration, or otherwise cut costs and operate more efficiently, to turn a profit.

In spite of the high price, a dental education could still be worth it

In all likelihood, many factors in addition to these contribute to the high cost of dental school. Suffice it to say that this is a very costly educational program to pursue. It does lead to a career that can be very rewarding financially, however. Whether the financial and other rewards justify the high cost in time and money in your case depends on you. Carefully consider the costs and benefits of a dental education before deciding if it’s the best educational career path for you.

Pro tip: If you are not sure whether you want to be a dentist, start off at community college as a dental hygienist or study to be a dental assistant. Dental hygienists and dental assistants both have similar working conditions to dentists, giving you a better idea of what to expect. If you plan to work in Minnesota, Maine, or Alaskan tribal villages, you can also consider becoming a dental therapist.

How to pay for dental school

Because dental school is so hard to pay for, you may have to be creative. Most dentists take out massive amounts of student loans in order to fund their education. However, there are some other tips that can help you seek out tuition:

  • Look into scholarships and grants. There are hundreds of scholarships that can help you alleviate the cost of becoming a licensed dentist. Even the American Dental Association has some!
  • Read up on student loan forgiveness first. Programs like income-driven repayment plans can make monthly payments much more manageable if you have a great deal of student loan debt. Dentists with high incomes may not end up having a portion of their debt forgiven as many lower-income borrowers do, but the lower monthly payments and longer payoff period can really help with your cash flow.
  • Consider enlisting in the military to pay for college. Military careers offer free college tuition for veterans as well as people who are in the reserves. Oh, and you won’t have to worry about having to find jobs, either. The Health Professions Scholarship Program will cover 100 percent of the cost!
  • Go to school abroad. Though we tend to assume that dental schools have to be in America, this isn’t the case. If you go to an accredited dental school in another country and pass an exam here, you can earn a degree for as little as $2,000 for all four years.
Pro tip: Be very careful when you decide to get an education abroad. If you choose the wrong college, you may have a hard time. Moreover, you will need to be able to understand the language of the people in that country. It’s not for everyone.

What is the job outlook for dentists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that, in addition to having a 2020 median salary of $164,010 per year, dentists can expect to remain in demand. The Bureau expects the need for dentists to grow by 8% a year from 2020 to 2030, a growth rate on par with the expected growth of other career fields.

Certain subcategories in this field, such as orthodontics, will have even higher rates of demand. Needless to say, dentists are not going to be out of a job anytime soon.

What factors increase a dentist’s salary?

The median salary for a dentist is already going to be high, but there are ways to increase your income.

  • Having your own specialization matters. A maxillofacial surgeon will earn far more than a general dentist will. This may require additional certifications and studies, but the average annual salary of a specialist is huge. As well, a specialization protects your earnings should non-dentists at some point be allowed to offer some of the services that it is currently only legal for dentists to provide. While paraprofessionals may be able to offer some of the services now exclusive to general dentists, they are unlikely to take over the services of advanced specialists.
  • Consider moving to one of the highest-paying states in the nation. In Utah, you could earn double what you would in Connecticut. Location matters. South Dakota currently pays a whopping $265,802 on average.
  • Open up your own private practice. Rather than worry about looking for job alerts, focus on having your own general practice. There’s always a demand for dentistry, especially in areas where there are tons of patients.
  • Aggressively market your practice or work for someone who does. The salaries of dentists linked to firms that have a lot of marketing tend to be higher. Why? Because you never run out of patients, and many people assume that aggressively marketed services are a premium product.

FAQ

Do dentists make a lot of money?

Dentists make a lot of money, even when compared to other medical professionals. They tend to be their own employers when they reach the later stage of their careers, too. The top paid dentists in America often break $400,000 a year.

Is becoming a dentist a good career?

If you want to be able to practice anywhere in the world, enjoy salaries that are well above average, and avoid the stress of most doctors, becoming a dentist can be a great career choice.

Of course, if you find the idea of having to work inside people’s mouths unpleasant, particularly given that some patients will have poor oral hygiene, dentistry may not suit you.

Can dentists pay off student loans?

Student loan payment can take a big bite out of most dentists’ salaries for years. Most dentists are able to pay the loans off eventually. Once they pay off most of their debt, dentists typically will work toward opening up their own practice.

What is the average student loan debt for a dentist?

The average student loan debt for a new dentist is slightly lower than for a typical doctor but still outrageously high. The average dentist graduates with $304,824 in student loan debt.

How do dentists pay off loans?

This varies from dentist to dentist. Some are able to pay off their loans over the customary 10 years (in the case of federal student loans).

Since $304,824 is considerably more than the median annual salary of $164,010, some dentists can reduce their monthly payments on government-backed student loans through income-driven repayment plans. Generally speaking, these plans let you make payments for 20–25 years rather than expecting you to pay off your loans in 10 years. While dentists’ high incomes may mean that they pay off the loan in full over this time rather than having a balance left to be forgiven at the end, the payments are more manageable.

Debt consolidation is another option that can make dentists’ large debt load less burdensome. Many choose to refinance or pay off their loans through student loan debt consolidation.

Because they enable forgiveness of outstanding loan balances after as few as 10 years, federal student loan forgiveness programs for public service work do make loan forgiveness a possibility for dentists who work in the public sector or with qualified nonprofits. These programs will not help with private student loan debt, however, since federal and private student loans are very different.

What is the interest rate on dental student loans?

While these can vary from lender to lender, most student loans that are offered to new dentists will have an interest rate between 5% and 7%. With compounding, this can make an already large debt look insurmountable after less time than you might think, particularly if you delay getting started on a repayment plan.

If, say, you were to delay repayment for 10 years while getting established and starting your own practice, here’s what an average dental school debt could look like after those 10 years at just 5% interest:

Key takeaways

  • The average dentist’s salary hovers between $160,000 to $220,000 per year for most states in the U.S.
  • How much dentists earn depends greatly on their specialization and on what state they work in.
  • The biggest issue professionals in this field face is graduating with high amounts of student loan debt.
  • While the pay dentists get can make this career worth the debt, prospective dental students should make sure this is the career for them before taking on so much debt. As of this writing, the average new dentist has over $300,000 in student loan debt.
  • Options for minimizing or eliminating student loan debt when becoming a dentist include military service and foreign schooling.
  • Options for making student loan debt more manageable include debt consolidation and, in the case of federal student loans, income-drive repayment.

If dentistry is the career you want, you can make it happen

The average salary of a dentist is pretty high, with many dentists earning well over $200,000 a year. According to Indeed Salaries, the national average hovers around $199,363 per year. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median is $164,010. Clearly, this is a highly lucrative field. However, dental school in the U.S. is costly and usually means taking on a lot of debt.

Because the average dentist will graduate with over $304,000 in debt, dentists’ burden of student loan debt can be daunting. If you are already committed to pursuing a career in dentistry and are researching ways to finance your expenses while pursuing your education, please take some time to read our guide to the best personal loans for students. If you’ve already completed your dental education and are looking for ways to make your debt more manageable, why not learn more about our student loan refinance marketplace?

View Article Sources
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  2. $1 million mistake: Becoming a doctor — CBS News
  3. Compound Interest Calculator — Securities and Exchange Commission
  4. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dentists — Bureau of Labor Statistics
  5. Pay & Salary — Indeed
  6. Relevant background articles by LendingTree and other student loan providers and commentators — Various
  7. The story of an orthodontist making 6 figures — Wall Street Journal
  8. Uncle Sam wants to pay for your medical school. Should you let him? — American Osteopathic Association
  9. 4 Income-Driven Repayment Plans That Lower Your Student Loan Payments — SuperMoney
  10. Best Personal Loans for Students — SuperMoney
  11. Can You Consolidate Private Student Loans Into Federal Loans? Consolidation vs. Refinancing — SuperMoney
  12. Everything You Need To Know About Student Loan Forgiveness — SuperMoney
  13. How to Calculate Your Monthly Payment With An Income-Driven Repayment Plan — SuperMoney
  14. Student Loan Industry Study — SuperMoney
  15. SuperMoney Launches Student Loan Refinance Marketplace — SuperMoney
  16. The Definitive Guide to Federal Student Loans — SuperMoney
  17. What is a Forgivable Loan? Definition and Examples — SuperMoney