Dental Hygienists offer invaluable support within the dental profession, so it’s important to understand the student loan landscape they face.
As the population ages and people take better care of their teeth than past generations, there’s more awareness about the importance of preventative dental care. More awareness means more demand for services.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2020 and 2030, the demand for dental hygienists in the United States will increase by 11%.
With the growing demand for dental services comes a growing demand for dental hygienists. In return, dental hygienists are earning a competitive salary, enjoying flexible schedules, and working in a relaxed and interactive environment.
Education training programs for dental hygienists
There are three different program types for dental hygiene education accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA): Entry-level, degree completion and graduate.
This program is for students without any prior dental hygiene education. Depending on the specific program, degrees can be completed in either two or four years. These programs prepare graduates for clinical practice of dental hygiene. Graduates are then eligible to sit for licensing exams and can go on to the clinical practice of dental hygiene.
Degree completion is specifically designed for licensed dental hygienists who’ve already completed their entry-level education, obtained an associate’s degree and are seeking to further their education. Dental hygienists with a bachelor’s degree have broader career opportunities available to them within the dental hygiene field.
Graduate-level programs are designed for dental hygienists looking to earn a master’s degree and who might want to pursue a career as an educator, researcher, or administrator. There’s typically little-to-no clinical component to graduate-level dental hygiene programs.
Dental hygienists with a master’s degree have the most career paths open to them.
Average student loan debt for dental hygienists
Fortunately, becoming a dental hygienist only requires an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which correlates to a much lower student debt burden. Many accredited American Dental Association programs take only two to three years to complete.
Types of student loans for dental hygienists
Many of the student loans available to dental hygienist students are similar to what you’ll find in other healthcare fields: federal and private student loans.
Federal student loans
To qualify for federal loans, you must:
- Demonstrate financial need.
- Be a U.S. citizen.
- Have a valid Social Security number.
- Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
- Be enrolled at least half-time.
- Maintain your grades.
This might be a limitation for some dental hygienist programs, especially if you plan to work full-time and attend school part-time.
Private student loans
It’s important to consider the path you wish to take as you study to be a dental hygienist. If you plan to skip your undergraduate education, work full-time, and go to school part-time, you might be limited to private loans or paying as you go.
It’s best to borrow from the federal system, if possible. Complete the FAFSA on StudentAid.gov as a first step to see if you’re eligible for aid.
Repayment options for dental hygienists with student debt
After completing your dental hygienist program, a question you might face is whether to pay off your student loan debt quickly or pursue student loan forgiveness?
The two main factors you need to evaluate to pay back your student loan debt are:
- What’s your income?
- How much in school loans do you owe?
How much do dental hygienists make?
There are over 194,000 dental hygienists working in the United States, according to the BLS. The average wage for dental hygienists ranges from $68,880 per year in Ohio to a high of $109,970 in California.
Let’s assume an average income of about $75,000 per year.
How much in student loans do dental hygienists owe?
The amount of outstanding student loan debt professionals in this field carry is largely dependent on their educational program. Here are some sample ranges:
Type of Program
20 to 30 months
$3,540 - $39,280
$16,390 - $71,850
1 to 2 years
$21,360 - $65,960
Pay your student loans quickly
This is the right fit for borrowers with high income and/or low student loan burdens. A good rule of thumb is that if your student loans are less than or equal to your annual income, you should pay the loans off ASAP.
In other words, you won’t likely qualify for longer-term forgiveness, so you might just want to be done. You can accomplish this by staying in the federal system and aggressively making higher payments each month.
Another option is refinancing your loans to save yourself money on interest charges. Our refinancing partners offer the best deals out there. You can get quick quotes from multiple lenders using soft credit checks.
Student loan forgiveness programs for dental hygienists
Debt burdens tend to be lower for dental hygienists. However, depending on your student loan balance and income, some of these programs might be right for you.
Keep in mind, you might be required to work in underserved areas to qualify for many of these opportunities. Here’s an overview of what to know.
What to Know
Must work in an underserved area in your state. Available for federal and private loans.
Loan forgiveness for dental hygienists working in a health professional shortage area. Available for federal and private loans.
Must work in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Available for federal and private loans.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Requires working full-time at an eligible employer and making 120 qualifying payments. Available for federal loans only.
Loan forgiveness under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan
Taxable loan forgiveness through IDR plans, like REPAYE or PAYE, after 20 or 25 years of payments. Available for federal loans only.
The final two options are the right fit for borrowers who have borrowed near the maximum for their dental hygienist education and wish to pursue forgiveness within the federal system.
IDR for dental hygienists
Remember the rule of thumb: If your loan balance is larger than your annual income, an IDR plan might be right for you.
For example, let’s assume you borrowed $100,000 for your undergraduate or bachelor’s degree, including a dental hygienist program.
If your starting income is under $100,000, it’s worth looking at your IDR plan options. You could pay 10% to 15% of your discretionary income under PAYE or IBR plans.
In the following example using our free student loan calculator, we are looking at a single borrower with $100,000 of student loans and a starting income of $60,000. Here are your monthly payments under income-driven repayment:
If you can work for a nonprofit or government entity to pursue PSLF, your out-of-pocket total payments might hit about $45,000 over 10 years. The remainder of your loan balance is forgiven, tax-free.
Before signing up for an IDR plan
Whenever we meet with borrowers, we don’t want to forget the most important thing: your life!
If your goal is to spend the minimum amount of time in school, try to borrow the least amount. Consider paying for school as you go. If you want to educate yourself as much as possible, think about jobs in the nonprofit sector.
Also, don’t forget to investigate your state forgiveness programs.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that as a dental hygienist you’ll borrow anywhere close to what dental students do. This gives you a lot of flexibility with repayment options.
If you need additional help, schedule a consult with us to discuss a repayment approach that matches your goals and lifestyle.