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Does student debt affect dental students' and dentists' stress levels?

Key Points

  • Provides an insight into current levels of student debt among dental students and newly qualified dentists.

  • Outlines how student debt affects dental students' and dentists' stress levels.

  • Explores the difference in stress levels of those with low student debt and those with high student debt.

  • Looks at application numbers to study dentistry since the rise in tuition fees.


Introduction Many studies have shown financial worries and debt to induce stress in individuals, this combined with the existing stress of being a dentist raises the question of how student debt affects students' and dentists' stress levels.

Objectives Determine whether student debt has had any noticeable effect on student stress levels; investigate whether student debt has any effect on dentists' career choice; investigate whether the increase in tuition fees has influenced the number of applicants to study dentistry at the University of Birmingham.

Method Anonymous questionnaires were completed by 70 4th year and 38 5th year BDS and 22 Dental Core Trainees (DCTs). Participants circled the response which best fitted their situation regarding statements on their level of stress and future career path. Ethical approval granted. Application figures to study dentistry obtained from head of admissions.

Results Forty-two percent of males and 63% of females strongly agreed with the statement that having no debt would reduce their stress levels. Of those with debt >£40,000, 11% strongly agreed and 42% agreed that their total amount of student debt causes them stress. Whereas, those whose debt is <£40,000 only 2% strongly agreed and 28% agreed that their total amount of student debt causes them stress. Seventy-seven percent of participants who had parental or family financial support reported this reduced their stress levels. Student debt was found to deter females from undertaking further study more than it deters males (P <0.001). Students with a higher level of debt were more likely to worry about their total student loan(s) (P <0.001). Moreover, students with a higher level of debt were more likely to be stressed about their total student loan(s) (P <0.001). Parental/family contribution to student expenses reduces student stress (P <0.001). Applications to study dentistry since the rise in tuition fees have decreased by 42%.

Conclusion Student debt has had an impact on student stress; students reporting a higher level of debt also report more stress and concern about paying off their student debt. Having no student debt would reduce stress levels, although to what extent is undetermined. Applications to study dentistry have fallen since the increase in tuition fees.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Professor Deborah White for her help with proof reading the questionnaire and Mr Kris Koomar for supplying the admissions figures for the University of Birmingham School of Dentistry.

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Correspondence to J. D. Boyles.

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Boyles, J., Ahmed, B. Does student debt affect dental students' and dentists' stress levels?. Br Dent J 223, 601–606 (2017).

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