And the Number 1 Job in America for Debt Is… Dentist

US News recently published their rankings of the 100 best jobs of 2017, and they boldly claim that being a Dentist is the number 1 job in America. Their report rates occupations on a list of seven different factors, but none address the cost of a dental education. For new dentists, your dental school dean probably sold you a bill of goods. Please tell us what schools told you about loans in the comments. I’d love to compare your stories and so would the other folks hanging out here. A dose of realism about student debt is necessary with all the BS cliches floating around universities these days.

No you will not repay your student debt in five to seven years. Your education was most likely not a wise financial investment compared to alternative paths available to someone smart enough to get into dental school. The economics of the profession are not the best they’ve ever been. Over the next decade, corporate dentistry will replace thousands of small business owners with employees and retain all the profits. I have a different rating system for the folks over at US News and the thousands of young dentists and soon to be dentists graduating in the next several years. Being a dentist is the number 1 job in America for debt. Keep reading to the end though, because it doesn’t have to be.

Dental School Debt is Crushing in Magnitude

In my flat fee student loan consulting practice, I help professionals from all different backgrounds. I’ve consulted with surgeons, primary care docs, veterinarians, psychologists, nurses, teachers, lawyers, chiropractors, pharmacists, business owners, dentists, and more. Dental student loans stand out because they are consistently the highest in absolute dollars of any profession.

The average debt of the 36 dentists I’ve consulted with in the past three months is $402,000. Their average salary is about $150,000. If I restricted that to dentists either currently in dental school or who graduated in the past couple years, the average debt would be closer to $450,000 and average income would be closer to $120,000.

Dental School Debt is Also Almost Impossible Relative to Salary

number 1 job in americaSo say you use my average debt and income figures for recent dentists. A typical debt to income ratio for dental school is therefore $450,000/$120,000=3.75. There is almost no scenario where an individual can repay this level of debt. If you disagree, that’s cool. Let’s debate it in the comments.

There is a wide distribution around these typical numbers of course. Many dentists coming out of public dental schools have between $250,000 and $300,000 in student loans and are on a path to repay everything within 10-15 years. However, some others from private schools owe well over $500,000. I’ve even consulted with some dentists graduating from residency programs who owe close to $1 million for their education.

Can you find some success stories of dentists who’ve moved to a rural wealthy enclave in the middle of nowhere making $400,000 a year three years out of school? Sure. However, even these ‘unicorn’ dentists would’ve probably been even more successful as non-dentist business owners. You also can’t make an argument in favor of a profession based on how well the 0.1% are doing. You have to look at the vast majority of cases and look at the typical result.

Without the government income driven repayment programs to fall back on, I estimate that 50% of today’s graduating dentists would default on their loans. That’s not a stable occupation with great pay. It’s one where you have an anvil hanging over your head that you’re glad hasn’t dropped yet.

Dentistry is the Most Expensive of Any Professional or Graduate Program 

number 1 job in americaMedical school is cheaper than dental school. Many people even get scholarships. If you have a high balance, you can use Public Service Loan Forgiveness to pay a fraction of what you borrowed.

Veterinary school is unbelievably expensive, but dental school still wins. I’ve never heard of a vet med student being asked to spend $5,000 for a DVD with books on it.

Law school, psychology PhD programs, pharmacy school, and other graduate degree programs do not hold a candle to the absolute magnitude of the cost of dental school. Yes owing $200,000 and not being able to find a job as a lawyer sucks, but at least that individual can choose not to practice law and survive financially.

To US News and Others Who Believe Dentistry is the Number 1 Job in America, Maybe you Haven’t Seen the $500,000+ Burdens Out There

I jokingly wonder if dental school deans take up a collection plate for US News for keeping talk of debt under wraps. There is a massive student loan bubble waiting to pop, and dentistry is near the top of the list.

Say US News adjusted their rankings for average debt level after graduation. Dentistry would not be the number 1 job in America. It might not even be in the top 100. Praising dentistry as a high income occupation without mentioning student debt is like praising an owner of a 10,000 square foot home for his wealth without mentioning that the entire thing is mortgaged.

Am I being a little over the top in this post? Sure I am. Dentistry is a lot more secure from recessions, layoffs, and automation. There will always be a need for denstists and folks with intense pain will always be willing to pay a lot to get it to stop. I’m trying to scare away dentists from signing up as an associate at a DSO for 30 years. Dentistry can still be rewarding, but you have to play great offense and great defense. I specialize in the defense part of the equation by optimizing student loan strategy for dentists so you aren’t making big mistakes and paying thousands in unnecessary interest. That happens about 90% of the time.

Don’t Lose Heart Though, There is a Path Forward. Live within Your Means and Make a Plan

If you’re a talented young dentist, don’t lose heart. I speak with dentists all the time and help them come up with a plan to tackle their student debt. Yes the cost of attending dental school is outrageous. However, once you have the debt the only route is to evaluate the best options for repayment to save the most money and act on it. Luckily, I save the average dentist over $100,000 over the life of their loan payback. Most dentists leave a ton of money on the table with their student loans, and I want to pick it up and put it back in your pocket.

Until the public realizes the truth that new dentists aren’t paying off their debt in 3 years and driving a Porsche, there will continue to be dozens of applicants for every spot in dental school. Once the word gets out or the federal government cuts off the unlimited dollars available in loans for dental school, I think we’ll see a crisis of epic proportions on our hands. Until that happens, maybe US News meant to say that the number 1 job in America is being Dean of a Dental School.

I Can Help

If you have a six figure dental school student loan burden, contact me at to see how I can solve your student loan uncertainty. I help graduate professionals conquer huge student loan balances with flat fee consultations.  I perform a holistic loan analysis with my proprietary simulation tool. This reveals what your best available repayment options are (government, private refinancing, etc). I’ve saved the average client tens of thousands of dollars. Check out my reviews on Facebook to see what past clients are saying. 

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37 Comments on "And the Number 1 Job in America for Debt Is… Dentist"

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lol this article makes me laugh. So having 250k of school debt and making 200k a year 5 years out of school is a bad investment? Not sure you’re the financial advisor I’d look to for advice.

To any skeptics out there. Every word of this article is true! I graduated from dental school four years ago with $371,000 in student loan debt. To date, the total principle with exorbitant 6.8 – 8.9% interest rates has ballooned the loans to over $455,000 while making payments under the Income-Based-Repayment program. Just imagine, the interest on your loans growing by just over $2200/month, all while corporate dentistry is taking over all the small profitable practices out there and starving out the competition. Companies like Aspen, Heartland and PDS come to the dental schools, recruiting dental students and promising the… Read more »
You are most certainly making a valid point. Private practice owners that serve PPO or EPO plans are also scrambling. Insurance companies like Delta Dental have completely monopolized the system. If a dentist ever dreams of dropping off Delta Dental the patients move over to the next dentist that takes their insurance. It is a vicious cycle: have the dream profession as a dentist then suffer at the expense of Insurance companies and student loans and practice mortgage etc. Having a Tripartite membership with ADA,CDA, Local dental society sucks almost $2k / Year and yet not sure what they do… Read more »
In some ways yes, PDS offers cerec crowns, so there is some leeway in what we can charge the patient since there is no lab fee. The the “Dental Plan” they offer to patients without insurance, is discounted to about what the average contracted rate for a PPO would be. On top of this, they are frequently offering 20% off promotions. I regularly do crowns for around 600 dollars, which is about half of what the private practices in the area are charging. I’m helping more people get the care they need, but also doing twice as much dentistry for… Read more »

[…] my career. But now I couldn’t help but feel cynical. A more realistic picture is painted in this article instead. I know that it was written by someone who runs a business helping people with student […]

Chris @ Mindful Explorer

Its the simple math of income vs expenses that many can’t even grasp in their daily lives. Simply doing the return on investment calculations leaves you in shock of what is needed to achieve this profession. Society places too much emphasis on degrees and social standing amongst the population. Honest jobs and even the trades are often looked down upon but they often have very little investment required to attain them that the ROI is very appealing. But people want the flashy cars and flashy houses and that flashy job title.


[…] is the belief that an education is worthwhile at any cost. I recently was reading about the astounding levels of debt the average dentist owes. The author of this article finds the average dentist just starting out has an average of […]

The Money Wizard

I had always heard Dentistry was an overrated profession. Pretty crazy to see the actual stats.

Veterinarians are a similar profession. Anecdotally, the average Vet I’ve seen graduates with about $400,000 in debt, and can expect to make barely over $100,000.

It’s sad that the allure of a job title pulls people into something that sure smells like a scam.

Debt Ascent
This doesn’t paint the rosiest of pictures for the profession. My wife is a practicing dentist as an associate. She graduated from a private dental school three years ago with approximately $400k in student loan debt. You highlight some important issues. Thanks for that, but I’d like to challenge a few of your assessments: “No you will not repay your student debt in five to seven years.” A dedicated practicing dentist whose sole focus is debt reduction can absolutely pay off this amount of debt in 5-7 years with a dedicated approach. Will it come at the expense of other… Read more »
Debt Ascent
Hi, thanks for the thoughtful reply. You of course bring up some very good points. The price of dental school is very high. Too high. Like I said, we know firsthand. I hope you don’t mind, but I want to thoroughly reply to your thoughts. “Your points are fair ones, but how many dentists and their partners do you know who are willing to live on $3300 a month much less $2300 a month?” My only data point is my wife. We don’t live on $3300 per month. Not even close. Then again, we have two children in a HCOL… Read more »

Now I know why there are crooked dentists preying on the public. My daughter recently relocated and a dentist she saw for the first time told her she had 6 cavities. She went to another dentist for a second opinion and her teeth were fine


So it might be a bad investment for general dentists looking at $120k starting, but what about those of us entering a specialty looking at $250-300k starting?

I am a recent associate, soon to be practice owner and a former community health dentist and faculty at two schools. I practice in a major metro/saturated area driven by imsurance and this year as an associate i took home 360,000 pay, and that is three days in a pure start up. I have never over treated but have dedicated my complete passion to dentistry. It is not a career that you can show up 9-5 put zero effort and expect to take thos salaray. I listen to podcasts on commute to work, live on forums in down time, and… Read more »

Where are you working?

Matthew Daugherty
Good article. My wife and I are both dentists with private school student loan debt. I graduated in 2010 and her in 2012. The total amount of debt is most definitely the source of all of our stresses. Its sad to think that we’ve had to put a family, purchasing a house, etc on hold while we deal with this. We have recently looked into the Federal and Statewide student loan repayment programs. The trouble we are having is finding a location for both of us. What are your thoughts on these programs. We figure, if we can find somewhere… Read more »

Wow this article and the comments are very informative.

I’m starting dental school next fall with undergraduate debt of about 40k. Is there any advice you can give me as I enter dental school and the dental field that can better prepare me to face this reality?