Dental care is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as oral health is connected to health issues in other parts of the body.
The demand for dentists, like other health care professionals, is on the rise. That’s party because of the aging U.S. population and because there’s more attention put on dental health with each generation. The aging population is likely to need additional oral care, some of which can include complicated procedures.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects there to be a 3% increase in available dentist jobs from 2019 to 2029. Job prospects are expected to be especially good for dentists willing to work in underserved areas.
Dentists can work in a variety of settings, such as in private practice — either on their own or with a partner — or in an outpatient care center, among others.
The median annual salary of a general dentist was $155,600 in 2019, with dental specialists earning $208,000 or more annually. For perspective, the median annual US income in the same year was $68,703.
While dentistry pays well, it also costs a lot to become a dentist. Dental school programs typically take four years to complete after students have already completed a bachelor’s degree. A degree from an accredited dental school will be either a D.D.S.— Doctor of Dental Surgery — or a D.M.D. — Doctor of Dental Medicine.
Individual universities determine which degree is awarded, but they are both approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), a part of the American Dental Association (ADA). Whichever degree a dental graduate is awarded, chances are they may also have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt to contend with after graduation.
By learning about the average tuition costs and ways to pay for dental school, prospective students can figure out if a dental career is the right choice for their future.
How Much Does Dental School Cost?
The range of dental school costs depends on whether a student is in-state (resident) or out of state (non-resident), and whether attending a public or private school. In-state public school tuition is typically going to be the least expensive option for most students.
According to the ADA, the average first-year cost of dental school (public or private), including tuition and mandatory fees, in 2018-2019 was $53,002 for residents and $69,905 for non-residents.
The cost difference between public schools and private schools can be substantial. The average resident cost for the first year of a public dental school program was $39,662, while the resident cost for a private dental school was $72,271. After four years in school, students are looking at between $158,648 and $289,084 worth of debt, on average.
According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), in 2019, 17% of dental school students graduated with no debt. Additionally, 19% graduated with less than $200,000 worth of debt; 25% graduated with $200,000 to $300,000 worth of debt; and 39% graduated with more than $300,000 worth of debt.
Prospective students can compare the cost of dental schools and then determine how much they are willing to pay for their education. According to the ADA, there are 67 accredited dental schools throughout the United States and 10 in Canada.
Even though dental school tuition can be expensive, students have options when figuring out how to afford it.
1. Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants are awards that, in most cases, don’t have to be repaid. For students without the means to pay for tuition and other costs from personal savings, exploring these options may be a good place to start.
Dental schools may offer scholarships and grants to students who meet certain academic standards or who are working toward a certain type of degree. When researching dental schools, prospective students may consider asking financial aid offices about available scholarships and grants.
Along with reaching out to schools, students may want to research scholarships and grants through organizations like The American Dental Association, The American Association of Public Health Dentistry, The American Dental Education Association and The American Dental Association Foundation.
Dental school is rigorous, but if students have the time and energy, they may want to consider working to supplement their educational costs. The Federal Work-Study program is available to graduate and professional students with financial need. Post-graduate students have the same eligibility requirements and position availability as undergraduate students. Financial aid offices at individual schools will have information pertaining to this program.
Training grants and fellowships, an option some dental students might find appealing, are sources of funding that often include a stipend and sometimes cover part of a student’s tuition.
These programs are designed to further a student’s education in a specific research area that interests them. They differ from simple grants in that there is a work component to them.
3. Service Programs
The Bureau of Health Workforce offers scholarships, loans and loan repayment programs to eligible healthcare students and workers, including those in the dental field. One program, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), provides scholarships to eligible students pursuing degrees in certain health professions.
In exchange for two years of full-time service in an underserved area, recipients will receive one year of scholarship support, up to a limit of four school years. The Bureau of Health Workforce also offers grants to eligible applicants through the Oral Health Workforce Development programs.
Service programs are also offered through the Indian Health Service (IHS). Eligible American Indian and Alaska Native students can apply for the IHS Scholarship, externship programs or loan repayment programs. Scholarships are available to eligible students in pre-dental programs or for those completing dental school.
Recipients agree to serve a two-year commitment with the IHS. Third-year dental students can choose to apply for an externship, which typically spans two to four weeks, with placement in an Indian health facility. Loan repayment programs are either through the IHS or the NHSC. Both include a service commitment.
Students willing to serve in the military may want to consider programs through the United States Army, Navy or Air Force. Each branch offers scholarships through the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP).
Military scholarships cover full tuition and other related costs, plus a monthly stipend. Recipients agree to serve on active military duty in exchange for scholarship funds — the number of years varies with the branch and the number of years the student receives the scholarship.
4. Federal Student Loans
Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form is the first step students should take to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. To fill out the form, they will need to provide personal identification and financial records.
Federal student loans for graduate and professional school students are either Direct Unsubsidized Loans or Direct PLUS Loans. Students may borrow up to $20,500 each year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and eligibility is not based on financial need.
If a student has costs in excess of that borrowing limit, they may want to consider a Direct PLUS Loan. Like a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, eligibility for a Direct PLUS Loan is not based on financial need, although a credit check is required.
Students are encouraged to ask the financial aid office at their school about school-based loans that might be available. Some federal funds are offered to schools instead of directly to students and are tied to certain eligibility requirements.
5. Private Student Loans
It’s always recommended that students exhaust all federal student loan options before considering a private student loan. But if there is still a financial need, a private student loan may be the right choice for some students.
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