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Are Braces Really Worth the Cost?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Whether it’s for themselves or their children, many people are at some point forced to decide if braces are a worthy investment. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that children have their first orthodontia checkup by age 7.  

Orthodontic treatment is becoming increasingly more commonplace, leading to industry growth, more patients and more money for practitioners. Worldwide, the industry has reached $11 billion in revenue, according to a 2016 market research report by IbisWorld. (Though this represents only a modest pace of revenue growth, demand is soaring, the report found.)  

An estimated 5.41 million patients in North America sought orthodontic treatment in 2014, according to the most recent data from the AAO. Annual salaries for orthodontists in the United States have increased to $228,780 annually in May 2016, up from $186,320 in May 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Still, the debate over braces remains largely a financial one, as parents have to consider if the long term effects justify the expense, or if their their children’s dental problems aren’t severe enough to warrant the cost. 

How expensive are braces?

Comprehensive treatment for children ranged from $4,685 to $6,500, and adults ranged from $4,800 to $7,135, according to data from the American Dental Association cited by the AAO. BracesInfo.com offers a free calculator tool that lets you estimate prices based on location 

Still, prices can vary widely based on location, with practices in larger cities tending to charge more. Rates are also dependent on the length of the treatment itself, which on average lasts about 24 months. With these variables in mind, ValuePenguin, a financial site, estimates the entire process could range from $3,000 to $10,000.  

Dr. Nahid Maleki, president of the AAO, says many orthodontists offer initial consultations for little to no cost. 

Learning the costs beforehand is the only way to make a truly informed decision, says Dr. Dawn Pruzansky, the administrative director of the Arizona School of Dental and Oral Health postgraduate orthodontic program in Mesa, Ariz. 

“When you look at the overall price, it does seem to be a bit daunting,” says Pruzansky, who owns a practice in Glendale, Ariz. “Just go get the consultation and don’t automatically think that it can’t be done.” 

When are braces worth the price?

While some parents may want to take a “wait and see” approach to braces, Maleki says there are certain dental problems that should be resolved before a child gets too old, as many irregular bone structures can’t be fixed after a person gains all their permanent teeth. Additionally, an improper bite can cause permanent damage to the teeth, making some damage irreversible after adolescence. 

“We can prevent problems from developing fully,” but a child cannot “un-grow” undesirable growth in their bones, says Maleki, who has a practice in Washington, D.C. 

However, there are problems that may not require immediate action. While Pruzansky notes that issues such as overcrowding won’t resolve themselves, she says dental problems that don’t inhibit a person’s ability to speak or eat properly — for example, minor spacing flaws — don’t normally justify braces.  

In these cases, it may be feasible to wait until adulthood to re-evaluate the situation. Pruzansky says holding off on treatment can be beneficial because adults can be more compliant, meaning they’re usually more likely than children to do what it takes to get the most out of having braces.  

“Sometimes it’s hard to get kids to understand the importance of braces,” she says, “or to get them to wear their retainers afterward.” 

This decision to wait seems to be growing in popularity. The number of adults receiving orthodontic care throughout North America increased by 67 percent from 1989 to 2014, the most recent data available, and 27 percent of all patients — 1.46 million people — were adults, according to AAO estimates from its membership of 19,000 orthodontists. The increase may  be due in part to the price difference between age groups, as ValuePenguin estimates that, on average, braces for adults cost only about $150 more than they do for children.  

What if I can’t afford braces?

There are a number of payment plans available, most of which involve making consistent monthly payments on a low-interest loan, typically giving you around five years to pay off the total.  

There also are no-interest plans, typically in the form of medical expense credit cards that have to be paid off in less timeCareCredit, which has financing options ranging between six and 24 months, is a popular example. Just watch out for deferred interest clauses, which can result in hefty fees if you don’t pay off the debt before the 0 percent intro period is over.  

Pruzansky says she also has seen patients use their Health Savings Account (HSA) — a special pretax account — to pay for braces. HSAs can typically be used to pay for orthodontic treatment, but check with your bank.  

Additionally, getting braces through a dental school could help save on certain fees, as some schools will charge only for materials and equipment 

While the most cost-effective solution may differ from situation to situation, Pruzansky says people are often surprised by the number of affordable options they actually have at their disposal.  

“I never want someone not to start simply because they can’t afford it,” Pruzansky says. “I don’t know any private practice that doesn’t offer some kind of interest-free financing.” 

Dillon Thompson
Dillon Thompson |

Dillon Thompson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dillon here

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College Students and Recent Grads

The Ultimate Guide to Paying off Dental School Debt

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Part I: Dental School Debt in the U.S.

How much debt do dental students have?

The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) shares numerous statistics about dental school debt and the profound impact it can make on new dentists’ lives. According to the agency, the average dental school debt for indebted dental school graduates from the class of 2016 reached $262,119. Large debt loads were reported at both public schools and private schools — $238,582 and $291,668, respectively.

Even more startling is the fact that more than 30% of indebted dental graduates from the class of 2016 reported debt loads of more than $300,000.

These statistics show just how expensive dental school can be, but they also make us wonder if dental school is truly worth the cost. This guide was created to show how a dental education can pay off with proper loan and money management. If you’re considering a future in dental school and worrying about the high price tag, keep reading to learn more.

Is dental school worth it?

Before anyone can gauge whether dental school is worth it, it’s crucial to consider the level of income one can expect in this career. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, dentists earned an annual mean wage of $173,860 nationally as of May 2016. It is important to note, however, that the bottom 10% of earners brought in only $67,690 that year, while the bottom 25% of earners made an average of $106,180.

The key to deciphering dentist income is figuring out how much you might earn after you gain some experience and the type of dentistry role you might take on. It’s only natural to expect dentists to earn more as they progress through their careers, but the industry they work in can also impact their earnings.

As the BLS reports, some industries paid dentists considerably more in 2016, including residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities ($184,620) and offices of dentists ($176,470).

Location matters, too, of course. Some states reported consistently higher incomes for dentists that year, including Delaware ($236,130), North Carolina ($236,020), Alaska ($234,240), New Hampshire ($220,480), and Nevada ($210,690).

With these salaries in mind, it’s easier to see how one might overcome $200,000+ in educational debt compared to workers in other, lower-paying industries.

Still, it’s important to note that dental school debt can still make a big impact on any dentist’s finances after graduation. A dentist with the average debt load of $262,119 at 6% APR would need to fork over a minimum of $2,910.06 per month if they chose standard, 10-year loan repayment after graduation per LendingTree’s loan calculator (Note: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney). Because of this, some dentists choose alternative repayment options that allow them to pay smaller monthly payments for a lengthier timeline. How long it takes a dental graduate to repay their debt depends on whether they choose standard, 10-year repayment or opt for an alternative repayment plan instead.

Is dental school right for you?

Part II: How to Pay for Dental School

If you answered “yes” to all or most of the questions above, considering a dental education could be a smart move. Still, it’s important to learn more about the different ways to pay for dental education and the debt repayment options that may be available to you. We’ll cover these concepts and more in this section.

Federal vs. Private Student Loans for Dental School

Federal student loans for dental school

Federal loans can be valuable for students who need to borrow money for dental education. Several different types of student loans are available, each having their own benefits and drawbacks. Federal student loans are often a good option for dental students since they offer relatively low interest rates and help students qualify for federal perks like income-driven repayment and student loan forgiveness programs.

Pros of federal student loans:

  • Fixed and competitive interest rates
  • Access to federal loan repayment and student loan forgiveness programs
  • The government can pay your interest while you’re in college if you qualify for subsidized loans
  • Flexible repayment plans
  • Access to student loan forbearance and deferment (if you qualify)
  • You don’t need a credit check to qualify for most federal student loans
  • You can defer repayment until you graduate college or drop down to half-time

Cons of federal student loans:

  • Borrowing caps that limit the amount of federal loans you can take out
  • You may need to take out more loans to cover the costs of dental school
  • The government can garnish your wages if you miss many payments

When to consider federal student loans:

  • You are gearing up for dental school and want a low, fixed-interest rate
  • You haven’t surpassed borrowing limits on federal loans yet
  • You want options in terms of deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment in the future

Private student loans for dental school

Private loans offer an alternative option for dental students to use instead of, or in addition to, federal student loans. Private student loans are offered through private lenders, which means their rates and repayment terms vary. Many dental students wind up taking out private student loans once they have borrowed as much federal aid as they could receive.

Pros of private student loans:

  • Rates can be lower than federal loans if you have excellent credit and/or a co-signer
  • Loan limits can be high enough to cover your entire cost of admission
  • The application process and loan disbursement may happen faster than federal student loans

Cons of private student loans:

  • You typically need good or excellent credit to qualify
  • You may need a co-signer
  • Interest rates can be fixed or variable
  • You don’t qualify for federal student loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment, or federally sponsored deferment or forbearance
  • You may need to make payments or pay interest while still in school

When to consider private loans:

  • You’ve tapped out your federal student loan limits but still need to borrow money
  • You qualify for a lower interest rate
  • You don’t want to take advantage of federal plans or protections on your student loans

*Rates current as of Aug. 14, 2017.

Grants & fellowships for dental students

The Dr. Ray Bowen Student Research Award is a financial award open to dental students who seek to “undertake novel research relevant to contemporary operative dentistry.”

  • Award amount: The award provides up to $6,000 for research and up to $1,000 to defray the costs of attending a conference to accept the award.
  • Qualifications: This is open to all dental students considering research.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: The award is offered every other year, with the next application period opening in mid-2018.

This program is offered through the Dr. Anthony Volpe Research Center and is open to 1-2 dental students per year. The goal is to help students apply classroom and lab experiences to real-world scenarios students will find in the field of dentistry.

  • Award amount: Award varies.
  • Qualifications: You must be a dental student to qualify.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Application period opens in late December and closes in late January.

This award was created to encourage dental students to conduct important research in their field by creating a financial incentive. The goal of the award is to promote advances in preventative dentistry.

  • Award amount: A $5,000 grant is awarded to one student each year.
  • Qualifications: According to the American Dental Association Foundation, dental students pursuing this grant must be in pursuit of one of the following dental degree programs at an eligible institution: D.D.S. or D.M.D., D.D.S./D.M.D. and Ph.D. dual degree, Ph.D. or equivalent, or M.P.H., M.S. or equivalent.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: The application period opens the first Friday of each April and closes the last Friday of each June.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Special Awards is a partnership between the Society for Science & the Public and the Intel Foundation. Students in high school can win a variety of prizes including scholarships, summer internships, equipment grants, and educational trips.

  • Award amount: Cash prizes total $3,500 for outstanding projects related to dentistry and oral health. The American Dental Association Foundation sponsors these awards.
  • Qualifications: The award is open to any student presenting at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Winners are selected among those who present at the fair.

Scholarships for dental students

This ADA Foundation scholarship helps select students defray the overwhelming costs of dental education and is meant to apply to academically gifted students.

  • Award amount: Scholarships up to $2,500 are available.
  • Qualifications: Students must be in their second year of school, must be enrolled full time, must demonstrate financial need, and must have a GPA of at least 3.25. References and minority status are also required.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Applications open the first Friday in September and close the second Friday in November.

This program offers two $5,000 awards to dental students who are nominated by someone else after demonstrating leadership skills in pursuit of their dental education.

  • Award amount: Two $5,000 awards are granted each year.
  • Qualifications: Students must be nominated and be in the process of earning a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree from a dental school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Students must also be under the age of 40 and a student, graduate student, or resident in their first five years of residency.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: The nomination period begins the first Friday in April and ends the last Friday in June.

This scholarship is open to 27 dental students nominated by the dean of their school.

  • Award amount: Awards come in the form of $5,000 scholarships.
  • Qualifications: Students must be nominated by the dean of their school and must be in the class of 2018 or class of 2019 at a dental school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Students must also demonstrate financial need.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: The deadline to apply for a 2017 scholarship was May 17, 2017. A 2018 deadline will be announced soon.

The TYLENOL Future Care Scholarship is open to U.S. students who are actively seeking a degree that will help them treat patients.

  • Award amount: Scholarships are awarded in both $5,000 and $10,000 amounts.
  • Qualifications: Students must be in pursuit of a degree that leads to a career treating patients. Students must also have at least one year left in school.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: The application period opens in May and ends at the end of June for the following school year.

This scholarship, which was created to commemorate Senator Barry Goldwater, is open to students who pursue research careers in natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

  • Award amount: Scholarships of up to $7,500 per year are available.
  • Qualifications: You must be a full-time sophomore or junior student pursuing a dental degree or a degree at a four-year or two-year school. Medical research must be a central part of your career goals.
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Application period opens the first Tuesday in September and ends the last Friday in January.

Part III: How to Pay Back Dental School Debt

Due to the many federal and private loan programs available, students entering dental school have plenty of options to compare and contrast. Since dental school funds borrowed need to be repaid eventually, however, it’s important for students to educate themselves on their many repayment options as well.

Repayment programs to consider

Here are the repayment programs students can choose as they wrap up their dental degrees.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

For federal student loan borrowers, there are several different income-driven repayment programs, each with their own stipulations and intended audience. The following table highlights each program and how it works.

Is an income-driven repayment plan right for you?

Income-driven repayment may be a good option for dental students who want to make lower monthly payments than they would with standard, 10-year repayment plans. These plans are also a good option for students who want their loans forgiven after 20-25 years. Keep in mind, however, that forgiven loan amounts are considered taxable income in the year they are forgiven.

How to apply

Apply for income-driven repayment programs using the U.S. Department of Education website.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Plan offers students the opportunity to have their student loans forgiven after 10 years provided they work in an approved public service position during that time. Once a student finds eligible employment and starts working, they can have their loans forgiven after 10 years and 120 months of timely loan payments.

While this program can be advantageous for dental graduates, it’s important to note that changes to this program could be on the way. It still works as promised for the time being, but budget cuts of the future could bring this program to an end or bring on considerable changes to benefits.

Who is eligible?

Dentists who agree to work in government-approved public service positions may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. You can learn more about qualifying employment here.

Is this program right for you?

This program can work well for dentists who want to work in public service or in an area with a high need for dentists and other health care workers. After 10 years, your loan balances will be forgiven, and you are free to move on to other employment if you wish.

How to apply

Fill out an application for PSLF with the U.S. Department of Education as soon as you can.

Army Dental Corps Program

This program offers tuition assistance up to 100% for individuals who serve in the U.S. Army while working on their degree. The Army will pay your tuition, your required books, and most academic fees while offering a monthly stipend of up to $2,000.

Who is eligible?

Dental students who qualify to serve in the U.S. Army may qualify for this program. You must be 21-42 years of age, be a U.S. citizen, and meet prescribed medical standards.

How to apply

For additional information, contact your local Army recruiter, call 1-800-USA-Army, or visit Healthcare.GoArmy.com.

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

This program offers tax-free loan repayment assistance for individuals entering qualified health care careers. Licensed health care providers may earn up to $50,000 for a two-year commitment to NHSC-approved employment in a high-need area.

Who is eligible?

Dentists who agree to work in an NHSC-approved career for at least two years can qualify for this assistance.

How to apply

Contact the National Health Service Corps to apply. You can also explore the NHSC website for tips on the application process.

State Loan Repayment Programs for Dentists

5 tips to pay off your student loans faster

While loan repayment programs can help you whittle away your student loans, there are several strategies that can help you reduce the amounts you owe whether you sign up for special programs or not. Here are five tips to pay your loans off faster no matter your situation or how much you owe:

#1: Start paying right away.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s blog, paying your loans right away – whether you have to or not – can be a smart move. While student loan payments may not be required until you graduate, you can reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay over time by paying any amounts you can toward your loans as you can.

#2: Refinance your loans to a lower rate.

Refinancing student loans into a new loan product with a lower interest rate and better terms can help you save money on interest over the long haul. This is especially true with private student loans since rates tend to be competitive and can change over time. Keep in mind, however, that refinancing federal student loans with a private lender can cause you to miss out on certain federal perks and protections including income-driven repayment, deferment, or forbearance.

Signing up for automatically debited payments can take the stress out of repaying your student loans. By setting up automatic bank drafts, you can rest assured your loan payment is taken care of and you won’t face late fees or penalties. Some lenders also offer an interest rate reduction for enrolling in their automatic payment plan. This is where savings come into play since a lower interest rate means less of your payment goes toward interest over time.

#3: Sign up for automatic payments.

Signing up for automatically debited payments can take the stress out of repaying your student loans. By setting up automatic bank drafts, you can rest assured your loan payment is taken care of and you won’t face late fees or penalties. Some lenders also offer an interest rate reduction for enrolling in their automatic payment plan. This is where savings come into play since a lower interest rate means less of your payment goes toward interest over time.

#4: Pay more than the minimum payment.

This tip might seem obvious, but it’s extremely important. Whether you start paying your loans off right away or wait until you graduate and have to start making payments, paying more than the minimum will let you pay off your loans faster. The more you can pay toward the principal of your loan balance, the more you save on interest and the faster your loans will disappear.

#5: Consider a loan repayment program.

Some of the programs we listed above (such as the PSLF Plan or state loan repayment assistance programs) can help you get out of debt faster while gaining valuable work experience. These programs typically require you to work in a specific shortage area for a predetermined length of time, so they’re not for everyone. If you do qualify and apply, however, you could have your loans forgiven completely or earn tens of thousands of dollars in loan repayment assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions: Paying for Dental School

Determine your current interest rate and compare it to the new rate you could qualify for. If the difference is substantial, refinancing can make a lot of financial sense. With a lower interest rate, you could save money and pay off your debts faster. However, it’s important to remember that you’ll lose federal student loan benefits if you refinance federal loans with a private lender.

The amount you’ll save depends on the amount you owe, your old interest rate, and your new rate and loan terms. A student loan calculator can give you a general idea of your savings.

One of the best ways to reduce the amount of money you owe for dental school is to spend less on your education to begin with. As you consider dental schools, make sure to compare program details such as the price of tuition, room, and board. How much you pay for school has a direct correlation to how much you’ll need to borrow.

Start by filling out a FAFSA form, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form helps schools determine how much federal aid you might qualify for. You should also contact the financial aid office at your dental school. They can point you toward applicable school-based scholarships and grants you may not even know about.

While the amount of time it takes dental students to find employment varies, the ADEA reports that dental school graduates typically enter the workforce much faster than colleagues in many other health professions.

According to the ADEA, any college major that offers a well-rounded education or fosters a foundation in science is appropriate for future dental students. This goes against the common wisdom that a major in biology or a similar subject is required.

The ADEA reports that both designations mean the same thing – that the dentist graduated from an accredited dental school. Universities determine which degree they award, and it has no bearing on employment opportunity or earnings.

Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson |

Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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