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Founders’ Letter

A Call to Action

Here’s a mission for the most influential people in dentistry: Fix the burgeoning student-debt crisis endangering our profession.

BY CHUCK AND RICK COHEN

Here’s a mission for the most influential people in dentistry: Fix the burgeoning student-debt crisis endangering our profession.

When Mike Meru started dental school in 2005, he might well have envisioned himself one day on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. This spring, that putative dream came true, but not in the way he would have wanted: Dr. Meru is now the face of student debt in America, a 37-year-old Utah orthodontist who owes more than $1 million for his education. Dr. Meru dutifully makes monthly $1,500 payments, the Journal noted, but that figure doesn’t even cover the interest on his loan. His obligation swelling, he now stands, with about 100 others nationwide, seven figures in the hole.

Student debt in the United States is a growing crisis. Now nearing $1.5 trillion, it’s the second-largest consumer debt category, behind only mortgages. Politicians across the ideological spectrum have taken notice, with President Trump calling it an “albatross around [young people’s] necks.”

Dentistry is at the forefront of this situation, in part because dental school is the country’s most expensive field of graduate study, with the average bill for a single year at a private nonprofit school now exceeding $71,000.

In a profession in which it seems we can’t even agree on the correct technique for cementing a PFM crown, everyone agrees that dental graduate debt is a big problem, fueling everything from the growth of corporate dentistry (because young dentists can’t afford to open their own practices) to access-to-care challenges (because dental school is increasingly beyond the reach of students from lower-income backgrounds).

The American Dental Association, the voice of our profession, offers a laundry list of proposals on its website, calling for lower interest rates on federal loans and a halt to the accrual of interest while a student completes an internship or residency. Good ideas, but it seems to us that dentistry needs a more urgent and comprehensive plan to address what is becoming an almost existential threat to the industry.

In other words, we need dentistry’s movers and shakers to apply their creativity and moxie to help solve this problem. That means the people featured in our second annual list of the 32 Most Influential People in Dentistry, which begins on page 26. It also means you. Dental-school debt isn’t just a conundrum for the ADA, or for state dental associations. It’s a challenge that we must address together as a profession: practitioners, manufacturers, distributors and laboratories alike.

Have thoughts or insights about the student-debt crisis? Or on Incisal Edge, industry influence or dentistry in general? Drop us a line anytime. We always love hearing your thoughts.