dental school worth the debt


Have you ever invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into…. well anything? Before dental school, I hadn’t. But that is exactly what I did when I chose to go to dental school. I invested more than $500k in becoming a dentist. So, the burning question— was it worth it? Should YOU invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into becoming a dentist?

is dental school worth the debt?

We recently shared a similar post on whether law school was worth the debt. Since dental school is where the majority of our student loan debt came from, we thought it was high time we shared our thoughts–is dental school worth the debt?

Dental school was worth the debt for me. But that doesn’t mean that it will be worth it for you. You must carefully consider several factors to make your own determination.

We spent more than $60,000 on getting into dental school alone. Applying to dental school is crazy competitive. We wanted to strengthen my application so that I would get in, so I chose to get a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science. It worked out for me– I was accepted almost immediately. But that meant we started dental school with $60,000 of debt. Not ideal.

Then, I attended a private dental school that cost about $55k per semester. I could have paid MUCH less by attending a public school, but we chose to live close to family, and in a state where Amber also was accepted to a good law school. There was no public dental school nearby, so that was really my only option given our circumstances. With interest rates as high as 7.9% on my student loans, the balance of our student loans quickly ballooned up to about $580,000 in student loan debt.

The crazy thing is we didn’t even really think much of our debt until we were about to graduate. Many of our friends were similarly situated. With options like student loan forgiveness, I think we all thought our debt would just be forgiven after 10-25 years under one of the forgiveness plans or we’d make amazing salaries to knock it out somehow.

But once we started discussing our options with financial advisers and student loan experts, we started feeling really worried. With our combined debt, we were well over $600k in debt. Think of all the things you can buy with $600k! A sweet lamborghini. A big house. 600,000 items of McDonald’s value menu. $600,000 worth of travel. We probably could have seen the whole world. Consider the fact that if we had just taken $600,000 and invested it in some business or in the stock market. We’d probably have made more money that way than what our salaries get us today. So it really is crazy to think that we paid that much for school.

So all of this begs the question, is dental school worth the debt?

One of the first financial advisers we spoke with when we were deciding how to tackle our student loan debt, literally said “dental school is one of the worst financial decisions you can make.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

Really? One of the worst financial decisions you can make? Worse than going into thousands of dollars in credit card debt? Worse than trying to pay a mortgage you can’t afford? Worse than making a sketchy investment? Worse than not investing at all? Worse than not saving for retirement?

While the adviser may have overstated what he intended to convey, the truth of the matter is that dental school is not necessarily a good financial decision, that is for sure.  The average cost of dental school is well over $200k. For us, it was double that. The internet says that the average income for a starting dentist is around $153k. That seems like a conservative estimation to me, but its one that we’ll use.

One general rule of thumb is that the total of your debts should not exceed 36% of your income.

So, take $153,000 x 36% (.36) which = $55,080.

Divide $55,080 by 12 and that =$4590.

Assuming you have no other debt (which is probably not a fair thing to assume) your student loan payments shouldn’t be more than $4590 to follow this general rule. (Fun fact, we pay almost three times that amount every month). If you are bringing in $12,750 a month, ($153k divided by 12 for the 12 months of the year) which is more like $8500 after taxes, do you really want $4590– more than half of your pay check– to go to student loans? That means you will be living off of about $4000 a month. While that is certainly doable, (we’re doing it) you could likely have earned that much money without going to dental school.

With that being said, here are a few financial factors to consider: 


  • Return on investment (ROI). Before you invest in most anything, you should consider your return on investment. A ROI is the gain from the investment minus the cost of the investment divided by the cost of investment.
  • Salary. There are plenty of jobs that can earn you a salary of $150k that don’t require +$200k of student loan debt.
  • Taxes. We underestimated taxes before we started working. We now totally understand why republicans are whining all the time about them 😉
  • Student loan debt burden. Take it from us– paying off half a million dollars in student loan debt really sucks. If you don’t get accepted into an inexpensive public school, it might be worth considering a different career path.
  • The cost of owning a dental practice if you are interested in ownership (and the benefits of ownership, such as increased salary and some tax benefits)
  • Scholarships and or military repayment. If you can get dental school paid for or partially paid for, that should weigh in to your decision


  • Work life balance. One of the biggest benefits of being a dentist is the pleasant work hours. In many offices, dentists enjoy flexible schedules, averaging between 3-5 days of work per week and usually working less than eight hours per shift.
  • Not having to go through residency. Immediately after graduation (and passing boards!) you can start earning six figures and doing real dentistry.
  • Being called “doctor” is cool. dental school worth the debt
  • Helping people/being in a service related industry
  • Job satisfaction– do you actually want to be a dentist? Are you OK with being in people’s mouths everyday? Are you OK with listening to people complain? Are you good at problem solving? Do you generally want to make people feel better? 

Dental school may or may not be right for you. The important thing is that you carefully weigh out the above factors, especially the financial factors. It would be a shame to invest so much time and money into something that you end up not enjoying. For us, it was the right decision. Dentistry was my dream. It has paid off financially (so far) and it is a job that I am happy to wake up in the morning to go and do.

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Is dental school worth the student loan debt

is dental school worth the student loan debt


  1. Unless something changed in the last ten years, in New York, you need to do at least one year of an accredited residency to be licensed. At the time of the change, I wondered if it was the start of a new trend, but I guess the other states did not follow along.

  2. I am a dental hygienist. I wanted to be a dentist. BUT In Canada as a dental hygienist you can open a clinic and employ a dentists, hygienists and CDA’s.

    Income-wise I’ll be in the same boat as a dentist, but my school debt was only $30’000CAD

    So I have to agree with the first financial advisor.

  3. I am interested in knowing if the internet data about dentist salaries is real. Being a dentist from Mexico can’t believe how much our colleagues are paid in the USA.
    Since I don’t know any dentist and I would look strange asking dentists in LinkedIn about their salaries, i find difficult to know whether the internet data is certain.

  4. I am a dentist. I work at a DSO with ownership in stock. When I got out of school I had 289k in student loan debt. Where ppl have have debt around 400-500k, I don’t see how ppl could recover from than that. I would have been better off being an Electrician. I paid my loans off in 6 years. My wife and I lived well below the means and put everything towards it. I have worked so hard paying off the debt. I am trying to find the joy in my career path. I tell my kids to do a different career path. I talk to my class mates who have not chosen to not pay off their debts and they feel like they will never retire due to their debt load. I feel like I will retire but hopefully I still have my sanity. My brother is an accountant graduated bought a duplex, was making around 50k slowly bought a couple other rentals moved jobs…. net worth greater than a million at 42.. almost 7000 month in residual income. He hikes, boats, and snow skis all the time. Now that I have dug myself out of the hole I am trying to build up the residual income. I will be much older than 42 to get some freedom.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Mat. The debt you take on for dental school is certainly a huge consideration.

    2. It’s all about debt and how you structure your business. I hear people complain about debt, but it’s usually bc they took on way too much not realizing they were only going to be taking in 150-250 as a general dentist. If you want to make big money to pay debts, you’ve got to hustle and be creative.

  5. I have been out 9 years now. I paid my debts minus the mortgage (but that could be paid off in less than a year if I wanted to do that) now I want to have some free time. Less hustle more fun. I would like to have greater residual income. So now my time is spent trying to be creative to create a residual income so the hours can be cut back and the income to stay the same. What is considered big money?

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