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Dentists are commonly perceived as wealthy. In this survey, we asked dentists if they consider themselves wealthy – and two out of three dentists said no, they are not in fact wealthy. "While my income may be in the top 10% of wage earners, my debt is high, and it is a struggle to fund my retirement goals," wrote one dentist, echoing the feelings of many respondents.
Read the dentists’ comments for more insight into their thoughts.
General dentists were somewhat less likely than specialists to consider themselves wealthy.
Specialists, on average, earn slightly more than their colleagues practicing general dentistry.
Geographic location was not highly correlated with dentists’ assessments of their wealth. However, suburban dentists were the least likely to classify themselves as wealthy.
Male and female dentists had nearly identical assessments of their financial situations.
The overhead can kill you
- “One of the most frustrating things about dentistry is the enormous financial investment one must make to first complete a dental education and then later to start up a practice. As much as I love dentistry, I am not sure I would choose this path if I had it to do over again. Many other fields are more lucrative without the same financial investment.” (California dentist)
- “High overhead, low profits.” (New Hampshire dentist)
- “I think that dentists can become wealthy over time just like anyone else with a financial plan and discipline. I also know that educational costs are very high and borrowing money for a private practice is an enormous amount of debt.” (South Carolina orthodontist)
- “I consider myself ‘wealthy’ only in the sense that I worked extremely hard for 25 years to pay my debts, taxes and not be a burden on society from here on out.” (Minnesota dentist)
- “I have a great wife and son. I am healthy, just turned 50 and biked 100 miles solo in six hours. I still have goals to achieve, and I don't have a grasp of what money I do have, but I want for very little. My only expenses are day-to-day living and my home mortgage.
Unfortunately I feel many think their ‘wants’ are their ‘needs.'” (North Carolina dentist)
- “I have an income that gives me a comfortable lifestyle. I still work 4 days per week but take off 4-5 weeks per year. I own vacation property and have no debt.” (Virginia dentist)
On the road to wealth
- “Not wealthy yet, but I am well on my way to one day being there! I missed the million dollar checks that my patients tell me are distributed at graduation.” (Ohio dentist)
- “I'm 52 and I make a good living now, but I lived paycheck to paycheck until I was 40. I'm still short on my retirement funding and don't plan to retire until age 65 or so.” (Virginia Orthodontist)
Delighted to be wealthy
- “I graduated from dental school with no debt, thanks to my wife's working to pay for it. I retired 4 years ago with a net worth of $4.5M and live half the time in Hawaii now. A lifetime of saving and time are the secrets to wealth.” (Tennessee dentist)
- “Statistics show that dentists average about $180k/year, putting them in the top 5% of earners in America. I personally earn more than that and am comfortable in my lifestyle and prospects for a secure retirement. Not Bill Gates, but financially secure.” (Pediatric dentist)
It's all relative
- “Bill Gates is wealthy.” (Arizona prosthodontist)
- “Wealth is relative. We certainly have more than the average person, but certainly not in the filthy rich category of some movie stars.” (Texas dentist)
- “I am not wealthy when compared to my social peers, but I am viewed as wealthy by my staff and family. Wealth is a very relative term.” (Delaware dentist)
- “I make good money compared to the general population, but my goal is to make good money compared to the successful people with whom I associate.” (Florida dentist)
- “Even though we don't feel that we are, we are doing better than 75% of the population.” (General dentist)
Too much debt
- “I make a good living and enjoy my career, but I have lots of debts that offset my assets.” (Michigan dentist)
- “I just purchased a practice, and my school debt exceeds $200k. Now I have to purchase the building of the practice for $600k, and I purchased a home… So the debt load is enormous in the beginning. Oh yeah — then add 2 kids to the equation.” (Vermont dentist)
- “I owe, I owe, it's off to work I go. . .hmm. . .hmm…hmm…hmm. . .I owe, I owe” (Michigan dentist)
The perception of dentists as wealthy is inaccurate
- “Production does NOT equal collection, despite what our patients think.” (Kansas dentist)
- “The idea that all dentists are wealthy is absurd. The public looks only at what they pay. They have no idea what it costs to run a dental clinic. Lab bills are $12,000/mo. Salaries are $20,000/mo. Add in equipment, rent, liability insurance, and of course, endless supplies, and now you have some very serious overhead. In reality, dentists must produce so very much revenue before they pay themselves that very few dentists are truly wealthy.” (Minnesota dentist)
- "It's because of the Doctorate that patients assume you are wealthy. Little do they know that staffing, taxes, overhead, broken appointments, and non-acceptance of needed treatment all chip away at this.” (Illinois dentist)
- "I think because dentist have autonomy and run a business, they are automatically seen as wealthy. Most people don't see the hard work and the years to get through dental school, residency training, or how expensive it is to run a dental business.” (New York dentist)
The slowing economy hurts dentists
- “Economics effect everyone. Unfortunately, dentistry is perceived as a luxury.” (California dentist)
- “While my income may be in the top 10% of wage earners, my debt is high, and it is a struggle to fund retirement goals. When patients hold back during economic uncertainty, my emergency reserve gets decimated, and I run dangerously close to insolvency, or have to borrow to stay afloat.” (California dentist)
- “With the economy on the down slide and expenses up across the board, what profession can truly call themselves wealthy? Only the CEOs of the oil companies, thanks to Bush.” (New York orthodontist)
- “The problem is in Michigan, the economic climate is such that income used for dental health care has been dried up.” (Michigan dentist)
- "These are very difficult times to make income — expenses are so high.” (Florida dentist)
- “The two biggest problems are the overhead to run a practice today and the past when overhead was much lower and insurance benefit went much farther because fees were much lower. Inflation has caught up.” (Ohio dentist)
Wealthy means you don't have to go to work
- "One million dollars yearly net is my idea of wealth. Will my lifestyle significantly change if I decide not to get out of bed some morning? If not, then I'm wealthy!” (Missouri dentist)
- “I am not vastly wealthy, but at 57 could retire now if I chose.” (Mississippi dentist)
- “You're only wealthy if you have the ‘what if's’ covered and can stop working when you want to.” (California dentist)
- "The freedom to do what you want when you want regardless of the cost. This is my definition of being wealthy." Indiana dentist)
- “Wealthy should, in my opinion, be defined as more than a million dollars a year in net positive cash flow. This is money that works while I am not working.” (Georgia dentist)
It's not just about being financially wealthy
- “I don't know about the perception or reality of dentists' vast amounts of wealth, but personally I feel wealthy in many ways and strong>extraordinarily lucky to have what I have and do what I love to do!” (California dentist)
- “I consider myself wealthy in many ways other than financially. Dentists are typically well-appointed people due in large part to our visual nature. This can be misconstrued by others as ‘wealthy.’ We are always making something artificial look real, so it's no wonder we can put on wealthy regardless of the actual circumstances. From a marketing standpoint, people flock to things that look like success. It takes special talent.” (South Carolina dentist)