I think when I went to dental school I had this expectation that it didn’t really matter how much debt I was taking on.  I was soon to be a rich dentist! Now, I knew that debt had to be repaid, and that with debt, you end up paying back more than you borrowed, but I’ll admit that I kind of wasn’t all that worried about it.

So I was going to have $250,000 in student loan debt (today a dental student could easily have $300,000 or more in student loan debt) when it was all said and done.  This was “good debt” right?  It came with a long 30 year payback and a low government interest rate so I could afford the paymentsRight?

Well, yes and no.  That payment on the $250,000 is a chunk of change!  Add to that a mortgage, a car payment, and a lifestyle and it starts piling up pretty quick.  That says nothing of the practice debts that come if you buy or start up a practice.  Those debts can be very large and the terms of repayment on those are more steep.

When I left dental school and did a start up practice, I quickly found myself, between business and personal debt, near $1,000,000 in debt from dentistry.  The payments on that debt were very quickly swallowing up the meager profits from my dental practice.  This pressure absolutely affected how I was feeling about this dentistry stuff and put a strain on me mentally and emotionally.

Aside from producing more and more in my practice to be able to pay down debts, I decided I wanted to do something about eliminating my student loans.  I looked into the military and found that with the Army Reserve, I could make a six year commitment–one weekend a month, two weeks a year–and get $250,000 in student loan repayment.  I did it and I don’t regret it.  Serve my country AND get my student loans paid off–win win!

My advice would be, be as cautious and judicious with debt as you can.  It is going to have to be paid back.  The debt will influence how you feel, other choices you can make, and what you can do with your life.  You may look into military service.  You should proactively look at ways to avoid, eliminate, or at least minimize debt.

Dr. Marcus Neff, DDS

Dr. Neff is a co-author of the book “So You Want to be a Dentist?: What you Must Know to Succeed in Dentistry”.  The book can be purchased at, the iBookstore,, and many other digital retailers.

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