Debt-Free Dentistry: A Guide to Loan Forgiveness for Dental Professionals

Dentistry can be a rewarding and fulfilling career, but dental school leaves many new dentists bogged down with student debt. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average dental school graduate owes roughly $286,000 in student loans. Fortunately, dental professionals are eligible for several student loan forgiveness programs through national and state level initiatives. Here are a few to consider:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) enables individuals, including dentists employed by either the government or a nonprofit organization, to have their loan balance forgiven after fulfilling program requirements.

Eligibility: To be eligible, you must have a Direct Loan, make 120 qualifying monthly payments towards your loan, and work full-time for a US federal, state, local, or tribal government or qualifying nonprofit organization.

Maximum benefit (loan forgiveness limit/cap): There’s no limit to how much could be forgiven through PSLF. Applicants with loan balances of over $100,000 have successfully had their loans forgiven using this program.

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP)

The NHSC LRP offers loan repayment assistance in exchange for two years of full- or part-time work at an NHSC-approved site. This program helps participants by providing repayment support for both graduate and undergraduate loans. Once your initial two-year contract is over, you can apply for a Continuation Contract to extend your service by one year at a time for additional loan repayment support until your loans are fully repaid.

Eligibility: Dentists who have a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Medical Dentistry degree and dental hygienists may apply. Visit the NHSC website for more eligibility information.

Loan forgiveness cap: Program participants could receive up to $50,000 for a two-year full-time clinical practice at an approved site.

Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program

Program participants receive financial awards to pay off dental school loans in exchange for two years of service at a health site serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities. After two years, participants may be able to extend their service contract. 

Eligibility: Program applicants must have their license to practice or be in their final year of dental school.

Loan forgiveness cap: Participants receive up to $50,000 to settle their qualifying loans for health profession education for their initial two-year service. They may receive one year of loan repayment for each additional year of service.

US Public Health Service: Commissioned Corps 

Dentists with the USPHS Commissioned Corps serve communities in need, respond to emergencies, and contribute to public policy. This federal agency offers signing bonuses to recently commissioned dentists that may help with loan repayment.

Eligibility: Dentists with a 4-year agreement are eligible for a signing bonus.

Loan repayment cap: Eligible participants could get up to $75,000 in signing bonuses.

Other programs

Dentists could also attain loan repayment support by serving in the US Military. The Air Force Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, Army Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, and VA Student Loan Repayment Program are some available options. 

In addition, dentists may be able to apply for loan forgiveness through state programs. The California State Loan Repayment Program, Delaware State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), and Fulfilling Iowa’s Need for Dentists (FIND) program are a few examples.

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