By: Dr. David Rice
It’s easy to find the median dentist salaries in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes this data. BLS data shows a median salary of $163,220 per year, or about $78 an hour.
But this data doesn’t paint a complete financial picture for the nation’s almost 150,000 dentists or for the thousands of new dentists who will enter the workforce each year.
New dentists often earn less than average — and they often have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt to repay. Young dentists may also face high practice start-up costs. This financial reality changes the context for salary data.
As a result, new dentists who successfully navigate these challenges can maximize their earning potential throughout their careers.
Average Student Debt Load for New Dentists: More than $300,000
Average student loan debt for new dentists topped $304,000 in 2020, according to the American Dental Education Association. A new dentist earning an average salary of $163,220 would need almost two years of paying only student debt to become debt-free.
Of course, very few young professionals can afford to put all their earnings toward debt, so debt service becomes an ongoing burden, a way of life, for new dentists.
Dental students should try to keep their debt load to a minimum while in dental school. Applying for scholarships can help limit debt. Some dentists who have already taken out loans can find debt forgiveness programs.
But, in general, young dentists are entering the profession with high levels of personal debt.
Start-Up Costs for New Dental Practices: $300,000 to $600,000
Dentists provide an essential service, just like thoracic surgeons and radiologists. Yet unlike most other health care providers, many dentists have to finance their own clinics. They have to create their own clinical environment — from staff to equipment to floor space — without support from large hospital systems.
For many new dentists, this requirement takes the shape of a large monthly payment, a payment that can take a big bite out of their annual earnings.
Working with the IgniteDDS community can help you navigate this process so you don’t start your new practice under financial duress. We work with dentists to help them control their own practices.
Another Dental Salary Variable: Location
Just like with real estate, location matters with dental salaries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average salaries by state. Some of these low-salary states may surprise you. Salaries vary so much, in part, because of different state insurance regulations.
States with the Highest Dental Salaries:
In the following states, dentists earn above-average salaries of at least $183,000.
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- North Carolina
- New Mexico
States with the Lowest Dental Salaries:
In the following states, dentists earn below-average salaries — some as low as $83,200.
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
States not listed fall somewhere in between — right around the average national salary.
And, keep in mind, the BLS reports salaries for entire states. This doesn’t mean salaries are uniform throughout the state. For example, Chicago and Houston are both in lower-earning states but these cities can boast higher-than-average salaries for dentists.
Specialization Increases Dentist Salaries
So far we’ve discussed salaries for general dentists. Most general dentists make less than specialists. Here are the numbers for common specialties within the dental profession:
The average annual salary for oral and maxillofacial surgeons is $242,370 or $116 per hour. These salaries also vary by state and metro area.
Orthodontists, on average, earn $225,760 per year, or about $108 per hour. Orthodontists in New England — and in the nation’s leading metro areas — earn above-average salaries.
Prosthodontists earn, on average, $191,400 per year, or about $92 per hour.
The BLS doesn’t report salaries for endodontists, but Jobted.com estimates $220,000 as the annual salary for early-career endodontists.
Dental hygienists can expect to earn about $75,000 a year on average. Here’s an interesting fact: BLS data shows hygienists in Alaska average $114,320 a year — the highest in the nation.
Dentist Salaries: Growing and Rewarding Profession
The job landscape for new dentists and dental specialists is promising. While starting salaries, combined with financial pressures from starting a new practice and paying off student debt, may seem less-than-stellar at first glance, there’s more to the profession than earning and paying bills.
As they progress through the early stages of their careers, dentists can earn more and pay less overhead. They can develop a good work-life balance, too.
IgniteDDS can help get you there. We’d love to hear from you about your journey and future plans.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska