Dental Residency Programs: When people think about pursuing a dental residency program, they seek to know if they can earn more money as a specialist compared to life as a general dentist, and they want to know the range of dental residency salaries.
The person is really worried that being a general dentist will get boring and they want to learn new skills; there is genuine concern about the cost of some specialty residences that I am concerned about.
Whether you’re about to start a dental residency or consider pursuing a dental career, there can be a lot of unknowns— from what a dental residency is actually demanding to what you’re going to get out of it. Here’s a guide for you to help out.
How long are dental residency programs?
What is a dental residence and how long are they going to last? Many dental homes outside the services of AEGD and GPR last two to three years. Oral surgery is a big exception to that rule, as OMFS candidates can expect four years of training without the MD or six years with it.
This means services for ortho, endo, age, prosthodontics, and pediatric residency aim to last two or three years.
Of note, most journalism programs tend to be nearly three years, while many of the endodontics programs I could find provided for two years (UF and NYU for instance). Three-year programs like this one at UConn seemed to be less common.
Obviously, the shorter the program, the better financially.
Understanding opportunity cost for going to a dental residency
It’s easy to understand that going to a private school for a residency in orthodontics will cost three years $100,000 a year.
If you haven’t taken an econ class at college, what’s not as evident is the imaginary value of lost income that you might have gained when you worked instead. It’s called the price of opportunity.
Assume that if you did not go to a dental residency program, you would practice general dentistry. The opportunity cost would be the projected general dentist payment for three years for a three-year periodontics plan. That could easily be between $360,000 and $500,000, without owning a dental practice or operating in an underserved area.
The high cost of tuition based dental residencies
Unfortunately, many dental residency programs charge fees and tuition to attend. Meanwhile, your physician peers get paid to go to residency. This is because the Medicare program pays for about 100,000 residency slots for physicians under the GME funding program.
Dental residencies get little to no government funding directly. Even though you probably provide cheap labor to the program, colleges of dental medicine know they can charge tuition in many cases and get it because of very lax federal student loan underwriting standards.
While some residencies are not tuition-based, and some even pay you a significant stipend, most residents can plan on coming out with additional student debt from attending their program.
If you go to a tuition-based dental residency with little to no stipend, you should add the additional student loan cost to your lost income while you’re at the program.
The resulting true cost of a dental residency for most people is in the $400,000 to $800,000 range.
What is the average debt of a dental specialist?
Here’s the average debt amounts in different specialties below.
The projected savings column is the amount clients should have saved in that profession after they implement the recommendations given for their student loans.
For example, an orthodontist living in a community property state who doesn’t know about the breadwinner loophole could easily save a couple hundred thousand projected over 20 years. An endodontist using PAYE when she could be using REPAYE because she plans to pay off her debt might save $60,000 in the first five years in interest subsidies.
What are average incomes after dental residency?
Here are the ranges of incomes seen for each specialty.
Typical Income Range
185k to 500k
200k to 450k
250k to 500k
180k to 250k
180k to 300k
You can make a lot of money as a general dentist
Plenty of general dentist clients make $400,000 and up, just doing bread and butter procedures. Almost all of them were located outside major metro areas with more than 500,000 people. Think two hours away from Minneapolis, or three hours west of Houston, or right outside a Native American reservation a few hours from Oklahoma City.
If your goal is earning a high income and paying back your debt in a hurry, I’d suggest not doing a dental residency. You just need to move somewhere where they need dentists.
Own your own practice. In an underserved area, you might even find some of the procedures being done by specialists in bigger cities can be done by you since patients don’t want to drive a couple hours for care.
Lots of new dentists express they’re afraid of being bored as a general dentist. Doing specialist training will however, not guarantee you don’t get tired of doing braces or root canals.
Dental specialty residency is a good decision for…
So many general dentists graduate and then sign up for associate positions at a DSO in New York, California, DC, and South Florida. These dentists typically earn between $120,000 and $150,000 in a high cost of living area. They also usually must rely on income-driven repayment and forgiveness to manage their debt.
If you have your heart set on living in a saturated market for dentistry, you are probably better off as a specialist than a generalist. In a highly competitive market, anything setting you apart is valuable.
Corporate dental groups from my experience have a harder time employing specialists like endodontists, orthodontists, periodontists, etc. Of course, these big groups exist. That said, corporate dental wants a giant scalable operation. Having to hire specialists is not as easy as building a giant group of general dentistry practices.
After doing a dental residency and becoming a specialist, you’ll most likely still need to rely on forgiveness strategies. The only difference would be that you’d be making more money than a generalist.
If you can earn $250,000 as an endodontist instead of $130,000 as a general dentist, that investment pays for itself rather quickly. That’s especially true since you’ll be shooting to have your loans forgiven while paying a tax bomb anyway. However, if you could’ve made that kind of money as a general dentist practice owner, maybe that’s not the best decision.
When is dental residency not a great idea?
If you want to work like crazy to get out of debt, pursuing a specialty residency and racking up even more debt is probably not the best thing to do.
If you’re willing to give up the big city lifestyle, then forgoing years of earnings while taking out more debt is a very costly decision.
Also, if you want to work part-time, general dentistry seems to be an easier occupation to live that lifestyle. I’ve certainly had specialist clients who worked three or four days a week. There are plenty of employers out there who will accommodate a general dentist who wants 20 hours a week. Specialists might need to figure it out for themselves.
Remember that while some residency programs are virtually mandatory, others are optional.
Though controversial in some cases, many general dentists do in rural areas do procedures that only specialists do in urban areas. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I see general dentists practice owners making so much money where they have little competition.
What’s the best dental residency from a financial perspective?
It’s easy to understand that it will cost $100,000 a year to go to a private school for an orthodontics internship.
If you haven’t taken an econ class at college, the theoretical cost of lost income you might have received when you worked instead is not as clear. It is called the opportunity rate.
Assume you’d practice general dentistry if you didn’t go to dental residency programs. The opportunity cost for a three-year periodontics plan would be the projected general dentist payment for three years. That could easily range from $360,000 to $500,000 without owning a dental practice or in an underserved area.
Orthodontics tends to be dentistry with higher pay-off power. You can do fantastically well, because Georgia’s one orthodontist won more than half a million a year. You can also make $225,000 for $1 million in student loans as a partner in NYC. That latter case can still lead to financial success for you. It’s only harder.
Period, prosthodontics, and pediatric dentistry tend to rely on what sort of residency you have been to and how long it has been. Three-year tuition based on no stipend, and if you’re not in a big city, you’ll be much better off as a general dentist.