Tuition Increases at Dental Schools

Richard Gawel


Rising dental school tuition isn’t just an American problem, according to Statistics Canada. Tuition for undergraduates pursuing dentistry in the 2018/2019 school year will be $23,474, the agency reports, compared to $18,118 in 2014/2015. Also, tuition for students in graduate dentistry programs will be $13,343 in 2018/2019, compared to $12,135 in 2014/2015.  

In fact, undergrads in dentistry programs will face the highest tuition fees, followed by medicine ($14,780), law ($13,332), and pharmacy ($10,746). These four programs account for 3.6% of all Canadian undergraduate students. Graduate programs in dentistry ranked third, behind executive MBA ($49,798) and regular MBA ($30,570) programs. 

Statistics Canada generated these figures from the annual survey of Tuition and Living Accommodation Costs, administered from April to June 2018 and covering all public degree-granting institutions in the country. Canadian students, including Canadian citizens and permanent residents, are reported separately from international students. 

Richard W. Valachovic, DMD, MPH, president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), shared his insights about these trends and the challenges facing the next generation of dentists.

Q: Why is dentistry among the most expensive fields of study?

A: Operating a dental school is fundamentally different from other health professions’ education because we cannot borrow our clinical environment from an existing space like a hospital.

Dental schools essentially have to create and run our own teaching hospitals, absorbing the full cost of treatment operatories, surgical suites, centralized sterilization units, and specialized equipment. Dental school clinic staff include faculty health professionals who supervise the direct care of patients as well as administrative and facilities staff who manage scheduling, billing, dental auxiliary duties, purchasing, information technology, and general maintenance. 

It is also important to consider the role of dental schools in the oral health safety net. In 2016-2017, predoctoral dental students provided care during more than 3,100,000 dental visits, and many of these individuals cannot afford to pay for their care. 

Over the last 15 to 20 years, state budget cuts have also meant a significant decrease in state funding to our dental schools to help cover the cost of providing these services, which has put enormous financial pressure on the institutions. 

Q: With these tuition increases, what makes dentistry still an attractive career? 

A: For anyone considering a career in dentistry, investing in a dental education continues to be a wise decision. A 2014 empirical analysis in the Journal of Dental Education found that “regardless of an applicant’s choice of public or private dental school, there continues to be a positive economic return on students’ commitment of both financial resources and time to receive a dental education.”

Upon completion of dental school (four years), graduates are eligible for licensure and practice ready so they can begin to earn a living right away. Median salary for general dentists in 2016 was reported at $153,900, with the best paid earning more than $208,000. As a point of comparison, physicians spend four years completing medical school and then undergo three to seven years of residency training before they are eligible to practice. 

We have also seen an increase in the numbers of our students who are graduating with no debt: 16% reported no educational debt, and well over a third reported total educational debt under $200,000 in our most recent 2017-18 ADEA Snapshot of Dental Education. (Total educational debt is the sum of educational debt incurred before and during dental school.)

And it’s not just about the financial investment. When considering key factors such as flexible work schedule, work-life balance, the ability to engage in community service, and status as a respected profession, dentistry consistently ranks as a “best job” in U.S. News and World Report and is number one in “Best Health Care Jobs.” 

Q: What strategies or programs are available for students who want to manage costs? 

A: The first step for anyone considering a dental education and funding it through loans is to determine what paying back different types of loans is likely to look like on a monthly basis. Our Dental Loan Organizer and Calculator can help prospective and current students do just that.

We house cost and other useful information at ADEA GoDental, an ADEA initiative centered on providing students interested in pursuing careers in dentistry and dental hygiene with tools, tips, and resources for applying to programs, matriculating and eventually fulfilling their career goals. 

The ADEA Money Matters and Resources sections are particularly focused on finances, with links that help students who are interested in applying to dental school learn about different programs and services that can help cover educational costs.

See also the following ADEA resources, which curate and compile federal and other resources on loan repayment assistance: Public Service Loan Forgiveness: What Every Dental Student, Resident and Fellow Should KnowState and Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs, and Faculty Loan Repayment and Grant Programs.

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