Dentist salary

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Here’s What the Average Dentist Salary Really Amounts to After You Factor in Dental School Debt

Dentists rank right near the top of two financial categories, one of which is good and the other is not so good. Any guesses? The answer is that the average dentist salary is among the top paid professionals out there (good). But dentists also graduate with more student debt than most other professionals (bad).

So, does the opportunity to earn a great salary offset the debt? Key factors in this equation, especially for general dentists, include what part of the country the dentist practices in and whether they own their own business. Both of which can impact not only dentists’ income, but also their student loan repayment options.

General dentist income versus dental specialists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 140,000 dentists currently working in the field. Based on recent data from the American Dental Association in conjunction with the Health Policy Institute, the average dentist salary is $220,950. That amount is misleading, especially for general dentists.

Those who choose to train for a specialization earn a substantial income premium. Endodontists, orthodontists, periodontists, prosthodontists, oral surgeons, as well as pediatric dentists, for example, all vastly out-earn general dentists on average.

Taking a closer look at the BLS data, 120,300 (about 86%) of all dentists are general dentists, and the average general dentist earns $180,830. That’s about $40,000 below the average dentist salary from the ADA data. How can that be?

If 86% of dentists are earning less than the average, that means that the other 14% of specialists must be earning well above average. The truth is that specialists earn $330,180 on average.

With those numbers, you might wonder why anyone would choose general dentistry over specializing.

Some like the continuity of relationships. Others want to start working right away rather than go through more training. This can mean more debt and pushing off a high income for many more years. Some dentists like to perform a variety of procedures rather than specializing. Some areas of the country don’t have certain specialist jobs available.

There are a number of reasons dentists choose general dentistry over specializing.

General dentist income by state

In most professions, the more expensive it is to live in a city, the higher the pay. Employers are willing to pay more for talented people to come to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and other major metro areas. In many cases, employees negotiate higher pay so they can afford to live comfortably in these cities.

Not so for most dentists.

Dentists’ salaries can be substantially lower in the more expensive populated states and higher in more sparse parts of the U.S. The ADA created a map of the average annual income for general dentists by state that reflects this trend.

California, the most populated and one of the most expensive states to live in, for example, has the second lowest dentist income in the country after adjusting for cost of living. This issue is supply and demand. There are 30,000 dentists in California, but only 15,000 in Texas.

There are about 60 dentists per 100,000 people in the U.S. But California; Washington, DC; Massachusetts; and New Jersey are highly saturated at nearly 80 per 100,000. That’s 33% more dentists per capita.

The average dentist incomes in those states are all below the national average. More dentists per person means more competition and fewer patients (and income) per dentist.

States with the highest dentist income (above $225,000) include:

  • Alaska
  • Delaware
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin

States with the lowest dentist income (under $175,000) include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Whereas, states like Nevada, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, Maine, New Hampshire have an average salary ranging between $200,000 to $225,000.

Dentists in states with lower populations and less competition, often in more rural areas, tend to make more money than those who live in densely populated areas that have an oversaturation of dentists.

Owning a dental practice versus working as an associate dentist

General dentists who are trying to maximize their income should consider going somewhere that has less competition and a greater need for dentists.

Here’s yet another drastic difference in dentist income. If you remember, the average general dentist earns $190,000. Looking at the same ADA survey, the average dentist employee earns $160,000. Meanwhile, the average solo practice owner makes $201,000, a 13% premium.

Scaling a practice definitely pays off even more though. A practice owner who has at least one more dentist working for them earns $235,000 on average. That’s 47% more income than the $160,000 earned as an associate.

Why do practice-owners make more? The average dental practice takes home about $0.40 to $.0.50 per dollar of revenue it brings in. An associate would get paid about $0.30 per dollar. The practice owner profits an extra $0.10 to $0.20 per dollar of production from their own business as well as from the production of other associate dentists they’d hire.

Being a practice-owning dentist takes a lot of work, though. Typically practice owners need to borrow money to purchase the practice and buy equipment not included with the purchase. They also have to put in the time to run the practice. The other advantage, aside from making more money per dollar of production, is that they’re buying and building something of value that they can sell down the road.

How to manage dentist student loan debt

We know that the average general dentist earns $180,830 in annual salary. But the average dentist also graduates with between $250,000 to $300,000 in student loans.

Here at Student Loan Planner®, we’ve done hundreds of individual student loan consults with dentists. The average debt for those clients is $385,000.

So, what’s the best way for dentists to pay back student loans?

The best student loan repayment options for dentists

We’ve worked with over 5,875 clients advising on $1.44 billion in student loans. What we’ve found is that there are two optimal ways to pay back student loans:

1. Aggressive repayment: This strategy entails doing everything you can to pay off debt as fast as possible. It should take no more than 10 years. The idea is to pay as little in interest as possible. That often means refinancing to pay less in interest and putting more money toward paying off the loan.

This plan works best for dentists who owe less than 1.5 times their income in student debt (e.g. a dentist making $200,000 who owes $300,000 or less).

2. Using an income-driven repayment (IDR) to maximize loan forgiveness: This strategy involves signing up for a PAYE, REPAYE or IBR plan to keep the monthly payments as low as possible. Then a dentist would want to take advantage of the low payments to save aggressively, preferably by maxing out pre-tax retirement and saving up for the potential tax bomb to start.

This strategy works best for dentists who owe more than twice their income in student loans (e.g. a dentist making $175,000 who owes $350,000 or more in student loans). It also works well for those who are looking to own a dental practice so they can have payment flexibility until they get things up and running.

When general dentists should refinance student loans

Here’s a hypothetical example of when a general dentist should refinance his student loans. James has $250,000 in student loan debt at 6.8% interest and he earns a general dentist salary of $190,000. His income is projected to grow slow and steady at 3% per year. Should he take the aggressive approach or go on income-driven repayment?

Let’s take a look at the numbers comparing PAYE, a standard 10-year plan and refinancing:

This is a clear refinancing case because refinancing will save James the most money by far when compared with the other two options.

PAYE would cost about $156,000 more to pay back his student debt and double the amount of time until he’s debt free (20 years versus 10 years). The refi payments are $1,100 higher per month versus his initial PAYE payment, but he can easily afford that on a $190,000 income. It’s worth it to save six-figures over the long run.

Why refinance with a private lender rather than leave it on the 10-year standard plan? Refinancing could lower his interest rate from 6.8% down to 4.5%, reducing the total cost of paying back his debt by lowering his monthly payment by about $300 per month and saving nearly $35,000 over 10 years.

When general dentists should get on an IDR plan

Now let’s consider another hypothetical example. Jane is a general dentist who lives in Southern California. Her income is $150,000, and she owes $400,000 in student debt from undergrad and dental school. She’s not planning to open her own practice, so her income should grow at the normal 3% per year.

Although it looks like refinancing costs less out of pocket, it isn’t actually the most affordable or optimal plan. Mathematically speaking, we want to go with the option that has the lowest net present value (NPV), or the cost in today’s dollars. Looking at it there, PAYE is nearly $100,000 less than refinancing. Essentially this means it’s cheaper to keep the payments low so she can save a lot money

Here’s what I mean by the lower NPV being more important than the total cost:
The combination of a high refinance payment ($4,146 per month) and a lower salary doesn’t leave much room to reach other financial goals, like buying a house or saving for retirement.

Her lifestyle would be pretty much nil as well. Let’s say her take-home pay is about $8,000 per month. More than half would go toward her refinancing payments over the next 10 years. This leaves her with just over $3,000 for regular monthly outflows while living in expensive Southern California. That’s pretty much a no-go.

On PAYE, her payment would start at $1,098 which would leave her with about $7,000 per month in take-home pay. Now we’re talking.

Remember though, that we need to save aggressively alongside PAYE. If she could save about $2,500 a month by maxing out her pre-tax retirement plan and saving for the tax bomb ($679 per month) she could reach other financial milestones along the way.

Assuming her $2,500 per month would be invested and grow at 5% per year, she could build up a $390,000 nest egg in 10 years. That would continue growing to $1,031,000 in 20 years. She’d still have a $797,000 nest egg after paying the tax bomb ($234,000) on the forgiven balance after 20 years of payments on PAYE. The kicker is that as her income grows, she can save even more money while also increasing her lifestyle.

Now, let’s say she refinanced, throwing all she can toward her loans and holding off on savings for 10 years. She’d be debt free in 10 years and then could take the $4,146 payment she had been making and invest it over the next 10 years, ending up with $643,000. That isn’t bad but it ends up being over $100,000 shy of the PAYE plan that invests the difference in payment.

Jane would have a 24% higher net worth after 20 years by being on the PAYE plan instead of refinancing and paying off the debt in 10 years ($796,000 with PAYE versus $643,000 refinancing).

Is becoming a general dentist worth it?

It’s scary for dental school graduates to owe $300,000 or $400,000 in student loans. Honestly, it might not be worth it financially for aspiring dentists who want to be an associate for life working in a major metropolitan area.

On the other hand, becoming a dentist could be highly rewarding and lucrative for those who are willing to live in more rural locations and entertain the idea of pursuing practice ownership.

The good news is that there’s an optimal plan to pay dental school loans back no matter your situation.

How dentists can get on the right student loan plan

General dentists can find a clear path to pay back their student loans. A path that can not only save them significantly more money during repayment but also give them actionable steps and a clear way to get it done.

Student Loan Planner® has done thousands of student loan consultations for clients totaling over $1.44 billion of student loan debt. We can help you figure out the optimal path in just one hour. Plus, we also include email support after the consultation where we continue to answer questions and help you implement your plan. Learn more about our consultation process.

Filed Under: Dentist


How much do dentists make?

Dentists can easily earn a six-figure salary.. However, you likely won’t earn the highest-level dentistry pay right out of school. In fact, there are a few different factors that affect how much dentists make a year.

If you’re thinking about a career in this lucrative field, here’s what to know about the starting salaries for dentists,  dentist incomes for various specialties and whether the pay is worth dental school debt.

Starting salaries for dentists

Like other professionals who are early in their career, an entry-level general dentist might earn a lower salary than a more experienced one. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average starting salary for dentists is $58,732, which is significantly less than the national average across the profession. However, this can vary by position, location and employer.

Average dentist salaries

Once you gain experience in your career, your earnings potential could skyrocket. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the average dentist income is $180,830 annually. Dentists working at private practices can earn even more; the American Dental Association (ADA) found that net income for general dentists was $204,710 and that specialists earned an average of $343,410.

What determines a dentist salary?

The typical income you can expect in this line of work depends on a handful of variables. Below are a few factors that can affect dentistry pay.


The city and state where you practice has a significant effect on how much you’ll earn as a dentist. For example, according to state and area data from the BLS, the average wage for a general dentist in Illinois is $198,480, while Wyoming- and Vermont-based dentists earn $133,750 and $254,190, respectively.

Even wages between different areas in the same state can vary considerably. For example, in California, general dentists in the San Francisco metropolitan area earn an average wage of $177,420 per year, while Los Angeles dentists earn an average of $137,020.

Dental specialty

Dental specialties require two to six years of additional residency training. The ADA recognizes 12 dental specialties, all of which have higher salary potential than a career as a general dentist. A few examples of top-paying dental specialties and their mean annual wages, according to the BLS, are:

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeon: $234,990.
  • Orthodontist: $237,990.
  • Prosthodontist: $196,960.

Specialists stand to earn among the top dentist incomes, but this requires more years of education and potentially more dental loan debt to complete that training in an accredited program.

Years of experience

The number of years you’ve practiced as a licensed dentist can also influence your dentistry pay. With more experience, you’ll qualify for more competitive salaries, and you may be able to accept more patients into your practice.

Public sector vs. private practice

The industry you work for also plays a role in your income. For example, the average income for dentists in offices of dentists is $183,340, according to BLS data, while dentists in general medical and surgical hospitals earn an average of $142,450.

Dentists who work in the private sector, whether general practice or specialty, typically earn more than those in the public sector.

Is becoming a dentist worth it?

The earning potential from a dentistry career is competitive, but you’ll also need to factor in the costs of your education if you’re considering whether this career path is worth it. In addition to earning an undergraduate degree, you’ll need to complete an accredited dental school program and advanced training if you want to specialize.

Dental school graduates from the class of 2019 had an average student loan debt of $292,169, according to data from the American Dental Association. This debt total accounts for unpaid undergraduate loans and loans during dental school.

Before committing to taking on the costs of becoming a dentist, consider whether it’s the best profession for you. Here are some tips to help you decide:

  • Shadow a dentist. A shadowing program lets you get a glimpse of what a dentist does day to day, and it’s also a plus on your dental school application.
  • Talk to a dental student. Aside from the potential student loan debt that’ll pile on from going to dental school, you’ll face the hours of daily coursework, studying, lab training and more. Talk to an existing dental school student to learn how they manage the demands of dental school.
  • Ask yourself if you’d work in the public sector. Dentists who serve in the public sector may qualify for federal loan forgiveness, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and state repayment programs. If you’re anticipating taking on a lot of debt, this may be part of your consideration.

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Dentist salary

The average salary for a dentist in the United States is around

Avg Salary

Dentists earn an average yearly salary of $155,600.
Wages typically start from $80,850 and go up to $299,460.

168% above national average ● Updated in 2019

Dentist earnings by seniority

Approximate values based on highest and lowest earning segments.

Dentist salary by state

State NameAverage Salary
District of Columbia$169,670
North Carolina$195,680
North Dakota$200,250
New Hampshire$226,300
New Jersey$143,120
New Mexico$153,010
New York$133,640
Puerto Rico$55,350
Rhode Island$254,190
South Carolina$153,610
South Dakota$164,120
West Virginia$126,330

How do dentist salaries compare to similar careers?

Dentists earn 32% more than similar careers in the United States. On average, they make less than orthodontists but more than coroners.

Source: CareerExplorer (Aggregated)

How Much do Dentists Earn? - UDA and NHS Salary Explained

How much does a Dentist make in New York, NY? The average Dentist salary in New York, NY is $206,351 as of September 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $179,813 and $238,273. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession. With more online, real-time compensation data than any other website, helps you determine your exact pay target. 

SalarySalary + BonusBenefits

Based on HR-reported data: a national average with a geographic differential

Dentist Salaries by Percentile

Percentile Salary LocationLast Updated
10th Percentile Dentist Salary$155,652New York,NYSeptember 27, 2021
25th Percentile Dentist Salary$179,813New York,NYSeptember 27, 2021
50th Percentile Dentist Salary$206,351New York,NYSeptember 27, 2021
75th Percentile Dentist Salary$238,273New York,NYSeptember 27, 2021
90th Percentile Dentist Salary$267,336New York,NYSeptember 27, 2021

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Job Description for Dentist

Dentist examines and treats diseases and injuries of teeth and gums. Performs preventative and maintenance dentistry and educates the patient in proper tooth and gum care. Being a Dentist recommends braces or surgery to correct any malformations. Requires a doctorate degree in dentistry, either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited school. Additionally, Dentist requires a state licensed to practice. Typically reports to a top management. Dentist's years of experience requirement may be unspecified. Certification and/or licensing in the position's specialty is the main requirement. (Copyright 2021 View full job description

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Norman R. Hames, President and Chief Operating Officer - Western Operations

RadNet, Inc.

RadNet, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, provides outpatient diagnostic imaging services in the United States. Its services include magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, positron emission tomography, nuclear medicine, mammography, ultrasound, diagnostic radiology, fluoroscopy, and other related procedur... More

Fiscal Year Ended in 2020

What does a Dentist do?

Dentist in Albuquerque, NM

Completed degree(s) from an accredited institution that are above the minimum education requirement may be substituted for experience on a year for year basis.

April 13, 2021

Demonstrates competency in the assessment, range of treatment, knowledge of growth and development and communication appropriate to the age of the patient treated.

March 23, 2021

Assumes clinical teaching assignments as per the dental residency program policy.

April 02, 2021

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Dentist Pay Difference by Location

City, StateCompared to national average
City, StateSan Francisco, CACompared to national average
City, StateWashington, DCCompared to national average
City, StateMiami, FLCompared to national average
City, StateChicago, ILCompared to national average
City, StateBoston, MACompared to national average
City, StateNew York, NYCompared to national average
City, StateDallas, TXCompared to national average

About New York, New York

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 M...

Source: Wikipedia (as of 04/11/2019). Read more from Wikipedia

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These charts show the average base salary (core compensation), as well as the average total cash compensation for the job of Dentist in New York, NY. The base salary for Dentist ranges from $179,813 to $238,273 with the average base salary of $206,351. The total cash compensation, which includes base, and annual incentives, can vary anywhere from $189,599 to $253,256 with the average total cash compensation of $219,339.

About New York, New York    The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estim....More

New York, New York  area prices were up 1.6% from a year ago    View the Cost of Living in New York, New York

Dentist Salary in popular cities: Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers

Skills associated with Dentist: Oral Surgery, Electronic health records (EHR) Software, Dental Software, Medical Specialty: Dentistry

Recently searched related titles: Dental Director, Cosmetic Dentist

Salary estimation for Dentist at companies like : FONAR CORP, INTERPACE BIOSCIENCES INC, PRECIPIO INC

Jobs with a similar salary range to Dentist : Associate Dentist, Family Practitioner


Salary dentist


How to Become a Dentist About this section


Dentists must be licensed in all states; requirements vary by state.

Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must have a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams. Dentists who practice in a specialty area must complete postdoctoral training.


Dentists typically need a DDS or DMD degree from a dental program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Most programs require that applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed certain science courses, such as biology or chemistry. Although no specific undergraduate major is required, programs may prefer applicants who have a bachelor's degree in a science, such as biology.

Applicants to dental schools usually take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Dental schools use this test along with other factors, such as grade point average, interviews, and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.

Dental school programs typically include coursework in subjects such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontics (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All programs at dental schools include clinical experience in which students work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

As early as high school, students interested in becoming dentists can take courses in subjects such as biology, chemistry, and math.


All dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. This training is usually a 2- to 4-year residency in a CODA-accredited program related to the specialty, which often culminates in a postdoctoral certificate or master’s degree. Oral and maxillofacial surgery programs typically take 4 to 6 years and may result in candidates earning a joint Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree.

General dentists do not need additional training after dental school.

Dentists who want to teach or do research full time may need advanced dental training, such as in a postdoctoral program in general dentistry.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. All states require dentists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. Most states require a dentist to have a DDS or DMD degree from an accredited dental program, pass the written National Board Dental Examinations, and pass a state or regional clinical examination.

In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in a dental specialty must have a license in that specialty. Licensure requires the completion of a residency after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Dentists must communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.

Detail oriented. Dentists must pay attention to the shape and color of teeth and to the space between them. For example, they may need to closely match a false tooth with a patient’s other teeth.

Dexterity. Dentists must be good with their hands. They must work carefully with tools in small spaces to ensure the safety of their patients.

Leadership skills. Dentists, especially those with their own practices, may need to manage staff or mentor other dentists.

Organizational skills. Keeping accurate records of patient care is critical in both medical and business settings.

Patience. Dentists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention, including children and those with a fear of dental work.

Problem-solving skills. Dentists must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatment.

How much money do dentists ACTUALLY make?


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