The vast majority of dental students have to take out student loans to pay for their schooling. In 2021, the average dental school debt was just over $300,000. It typically takes dental school graduates 10–25 years to pay off their student debt. But there are loan forgiveness programs and repayment plans in place to help students get out of debt.
What is the average debt for dental school?
According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the average dental school debt in 2021 was $301,583. It can typically take 10–25 years to pay this debt back.
The most common way students paid for dental school was through federal student loans. About 82% of dental students used student loans to pay for their education. And in many cases, it covered the majority of their education. Just under 45% of dental school students had their student loans cover 91%–100% of their education.
Private school vs. public school debts
As you might expect, private dental schools are usually more expensive than public ones. The average dental school debt for graduates from public schools in 2021 was $261,226. Student debt for dental school graduates from private schools in 2021 was $354,901.
How much do dentists earn?
Becoming a dentist is an honorable pursuit and can lead to a lot of success. According to Indeed, the average dentist’s total income is $199,363, and a dentist’s average base income is $185,864 (as of early April 2022). New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the top-paying cities for dentists. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a median income for U.S. dentists of $164,010. See SuperMoney’s in-depth analysis of dentists’ incomes by state for more details. In addition to two national averages based on surveys, Indeed provides the following averages for dentist incomes by state:
Income for dentists also varies significantly by specialty as the graph below (using ADA data) shows.
While a dentist’s high income is appealing, it does come at a cost.
Only 17% of dental school students graduated without any debt, and more than 39% graduated with more than $300,000 in debt. This can seem overwhelming and, unfortunately, student loans do have to be paid. This could shut down anyone’s dreams of becoming a dentist.
But if you dream of becoming a dentist, don’t give up just yet. It is possible to pay off dental school debt. There are multiple repayment programs in place that make it possible to pay your debt off in as little as ten years. Keep reading to learn more about the average dental school debt, how to afford it, and how much you could make as a dentist.
How do I pay for dental school?
Scholarships and grants
Getting a grant or scholarship is probably one of your best options because it does not need to be repaid. They may have certain eligibility requirements to receive and keep them, but there are a variety of scholarships and grants available.
The most common way students afford dental school is through federal student loans. While federal loans do need to be paid back, dental school graduates can generally pay off their debt in a timely manner.
The most common student loans used by dental students are the federal direct PLUS and the federal direct unsubsidized loan. Some students may be qualified for a Health Professions Student Loan (HPSL) or Loans for Disadvantaged Students (LDS).
Some students take out private loans to pay for dental school. Interest rates for private student loans vary by lender, and they cannot be paid off with an income-driven repayment plan.
Learn more about student loans for dental students on the ADEA website.
Education tax breaks
Some students may be qualified for certain tax breaks on their tax returns due to their education. A tax professional can help you understand whether or not this applies to you.
Dental school is very time-consuming and demanding, so working full-time while attending school likely won’t be an option. But, if you do want to work, look into work-study programs. This could help you pay off student loan debt while still being able to attend classes.
Ways to repay dental school loans
Student loan forgiveness, repayment plans, and refinancing are three common ways to pay off student loan debt. Your school’s financial aid office may be able to help you brainstorm some more student loan repayment plans.
Student loan forgiveness
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program could help some dental school graduates alleviate their debt.
The PSLF program grants student loan forgiveness to borrowers who:
- Are repaying their loans with an income-driven repayment plan
- Have made 120 monthly payments toward their student loan debt
- Are employed by a not-for-profit organization, or work for a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government
- Work full time
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Repayment Program
If you’re a dentist working in a health professional shortage area, the NHSC could grant you up to $50,000 in student loan repayment. This money is also tax-free. To qualify, you must have been working in a health professional shortage area for at least two years. Shortage areas can be found here on the HRSA website.
Income-driven repayment plans
One great thing about income-driven repayment plans is that they cap your monthly payments off at 10%–20% of your income. You may be paying the debt off longer, but your monthly student loan payments will be lower than with some other plans.
Student loan refinancing
Student loan refinancing is one way you can lower your loan’s interest rate. A lower interest rate could mean a lower monthly payment. Research interest rates and see if refinancing would be a beneficial option for you.
How long does it take to pay off dental school debt?
Generally speaking, it will take 10–25 years to pay off dental school debt. However, the time it takes to pay off student loan debt will depend on the repayment plan you choose.
Here are the four income-driven repayment plans offered by the U.S. Department of education, and how long they take to pay off:
|Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan||20 years|
|Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)||20–25|
|Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan||20–25 years|
|Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan||25 years|
Is dental school worth the student debt?
Dental school is very rigorous and demanding, but the job can be rewarding, and it pays well. One way to determine if you’d enjoy being a dentist is by shadowing a dentist. This can give you a better idea of what the job entails and if it’s worth the work. Dentists may be willing to share their own experiences with attending school and paying off their debts. This can give you valuable, first-hand insight that can help you make your decision.
How do I not get in debt after dental school?
Unless you have a great deal of savings to draw upon — perhaps because you are transitioning into dentistry from another career that pays very well — you will probably have to take on debt to attend dental school. The question then becomes: how can you get out of debt as soon as possible after dental school?
The answer is to come up with a plan on how you’ll repay the debt while you’re still a student. Look into loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans. While incurring debt to attend dental school may be inevitable, you won’t stay in debt forever.
Are dentists able to pay off their debt?
According to the ADEA, dental students have a reputation for paying off their debt promptly. It may take quite a few years, but paying off student debt from dental school is possible.
- The average dental school debt in 2021 was just over $300,000.
- Over 80% of dental school graduates used student loans to pay for their education.
- On average, it takes between 10 and 25 years to pay off dental school debt.
- Repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs can help graduates pay off their student loan debt.
What if you already have more student debt than you can handle?
Many people have to take out student loans to pay for the education they desire. Some of these people discover too late that they’ve taken on more debt than they can handle. If you can’t afford to pay off your loans, a student loan debt settlement company may be able to help you. Learn more about them here.
View Article Sources
- Dentist salary in United States — Indeed
- Educational debt — American Dental Education Association
- Financing options — American Dental Education Association
- Find Shortage Areas — Health Resources & Services Administration
- How Much Do Dentists Make? — Indeed
- If your federal student loan payments are high compared to your income, you may want to repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan. — Federal Student Aid
- Is dentistry right for you? — American Dental Education Association
- National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program — HRSA
- Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dentists — Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) — Federal Student Aid
- Type of loans — American Dental Education Association
- Best Personal Loans for Students — SuperMoney
- How to Pay for Grad School — SuperMoney
- Lower Student Loan Interest – SuperMoney Guide to Reducing Student Loan Interest Rates — SuperMoney
- Not Paying Student Loans? Can You Be Arrested? — SuperMoney
- Student Loan Industry Study — SuperMoney
- The Ultimate Guide to Student Loan Refinancing — SuperMoney
- What Is a Work Study Program and How Does It Work? — SuperMoney
Camilla has a background in journalism and business communications. She specializes in writing complex information in understandable ways. She has written on a variety of topics including money, science, personal finance, politics, and more. Her work has been published in the HuffPost, KSL.com, Deseret News, and more.