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The Maze of Dental Debt and Is There an Escape?

Becoming a dentist is a noble pursuit, but the cost of dental education can be overwhelming. Dental students often accrue substantial debt during their years of training, leaving them with a heavy financial burden upon graduation. As they begin their job search, with the burden of debt the stress to find a high-paying associate position increases. The average dental student graduates with $293,900 worth of debt as of 2022. More than 83% of students in 2022 graduated with student loan debt.  The weight of student debt contributes to graduates having the stress of finding a high-paying job to pay back debt and be able to live their lives.

It's crucial to assess the level of debt you've incurred and the best course of action. Not all dental students graduate with the same amount of debt, so the best course of action varies depending on your specific financial situation. Below are several tips to help guide you through debt. One of the best things about Dental Nachos and Dentist Job Connect is how our community members and partners support each other. Two of our sponsors are Student Loan Planner and Arch Financial. Both provide assistance for dental students and recent graduates navigating their debt.  For those who have low to moderate debt, the options for repayment are different compared to those who have high debt. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Budgeting and living within your means creates a realistic budget that allows you to live within your means while allocating extra funds toward debt repayment.

  2.  Loan Forgiveness Programs: Investigate federal or state loan forgiveness programs for healthcare professionals. Some programs offer loan forgiveness in exchange for working in underserved areas for a specified amount of time

  3.  Refinancing: Explore options to refinance your loans to lower interest rates, potentially reducing the total cost of your debt.

If your debt load is substantial (exceeding $200,000 or more), you'll need to be more strategic in your approach to repayment. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1.  Income-Driven Repayment Plans: Enroll in an income-driven repayment plan that caps your monthly payments based on your income and family size.

  2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) through FSA: Consider working for a non-profit or government dental practice. After ten years of qualifying payments, PSLF can forgive the remaining balance of your federal loans.

  3.  Loan Consolidation and Refinancing:  Explore loan consolidation to simplify payments and potentially lower interest rates. However, be cautious with private refinancing, as you may lose federal loan benefits.

Supporting Organizations

Several organizations and resources are dedicated to helping dental students manage their debt:

  1. American Dental Association (ADA): The ADA offers guidance and resources on student debt management, including information on loan forgiveness programs and advocacy for improved student loan policies.

  2. National Health Service Corps (NHSC):  NHSC offers loan repayment opportunities in exchange for service in underserved communities. Dentists can benefit from the NHSC Loan Repayment Program.

  3. 3. Federal Student Aid (FSA): The FSA website provides comprehensive information on federal student loans, including repayment options, loan forgiveness programs, and loan consolidation details.

The Associate Position Dilemma

One critical factor in managing dental student debt is the choice of your first job after graduation. The issue that many graduates face is they lack experience. Here are some things for consideration:


  1. Salary Negotiation: When seeking an associate position, negotiate your salary effectively. A higher starting salary will enable you to allocate more funds towards debt repayment.

  2. Workload vs. Salary: Balance the workload and salary offered by potential employers. A higher workload might be tolerable if it comes with a better compensation package.

  3. Future Growth: Consider the potential for career advancement in your chosen position. Advancement may lead to higher income, allowing you to pay down your debt more rapidly.

Managing dental student debt can be challenging, but there are solutions when trying to work your way to being debt free (one day). Take steps to assess your debt, explore repayment options, and take advantage of available resources. Remember that your associate position plays a crucial role in your ability to repay your student loans, so choose wisely. By taking a proactive approach, you can pave the way to a successful career as a dentist while minimizing the burden of student debt.

Dental Student Repayment Resources