A Sea of New Dentists and A Mountain of Debt

NYU Dentistry Graduation 2017

Student debt has become a forefront issue in this country as the cost of education is on the rise. Go to any website dedicated to dentist education or new dentist career planning, and you will see a plethora of debt management information and debt repayment options. The financial aspects of becoming a dentists can be overwhelming, especially since most students have an education based in science, not financial management.  Just look at the Overview of Direct Loan and FFEL Program Repayment Plans Federal Student Aid, (an office of the US Department of education) to see how complicated it can be. Most students training to become dentists are focused on just that, becoming a dentist, and are not necessarily financially savvy enough to navigate the murky waters of debt.  According to Student Loan Hero:

  • A borrower with the average dental school debt of $261,149, who borrowed at the Grad PLUS rate of 6.31%, faces a monthly payment of $2,940.
  • This same borrower would pay $91,664 in interest on this debt, for a total cost of $352,813.
  • It’s rare to make it out of dental school with no or little debt; only one in five 2016 dental school graduates had dental school debt under $100,000.
  • Among dental school graduates with debt, 30 percent owed more than $300,000.

One way to ease the debt burden is by joining a DSO. According to the Journal of Dental Education’s Annual ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors: 2013 Graduating Class, “Of those seniors planning to work full-time in private practice immediately after graduation, most (65 percent) intended to be employed as an associate in a private practice, while 23 percent intended to be employed at a corporate group practice, nineteen percent indicated they would purchase an existing private practice, and 6 percent planned to establish a new private practice immediately after graduation” (see first table below.)  And while the cost of dental school increases each year, so will the number of new dentists joining DSOs (see second table below.)

The American Student Dental Association, a national student-run organization that protects and advances the rights, interests and welfare of dental students, encourages U.S. Dental Schools to accommodate students interested in participating in national and state-level events related to organized dentistry when appropriate. (Policy Number: A-15 Policy Category: Dental Education Administration, 2016, revised 2017).  ASDA holds meetings throughout the year to educate members on issues facing the dental profession and provide opportunities to meet students from different dental schools.  In school, dental students receive in-depth training in general and specific areas of dentistry — including treatment options and patient care. Upon graduation, they leave with the technical skills needed to be good dentists. However, the life skills they need to be successful business owners, team leaders and people managers may not always be developed.

On November 17-19, ASDA will hold ‘The National Leadership Conference (NLC)’ in Chicago, IL, which provides leadership training to dental students across all years. Attendees can create customized schedules based on their personal knowledge, experience and interests, in order to benefit them as dental students and future practitioners, as well as leaders in organized dentistry. This event is sponspored by many dental support organizations, including, Aspen Dental, Dental Care Alliance, Dental DreamsFamilia Dental, Heartland Dental, ImmediaDent, Jefferson Dental Clinics, Kool Smiles Benevis, My Community Dental Centers, Pacific Dental Services, Willamette Dental Group.  (View a schedule of all ASDA meetings HERE.)

When a dentist is handed their DMD or DDS degree, they most likely will have more debt than ever before in the history of dentistry, but they also have more options for repayment. Dental school and associations are in a position to prepare students for the shifts occurring in the business of dentistry. Working for a DSO upon graduation can assist the recent graduate in building clinical skills and confidence, but also allows them to expedite paying down loans and accumulating capital.

Annual ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors: 2013 Graduating Class


Written by Beth Miller, contributing editor, GDN