Orthodontists Are Eligible for the Dental Student Loan Repayment Program

In 2023 after years of work in collaboration with the Florida Association of Orthodontists (FAO) and the Florida Dental Association (FDA), the AAO achieved a victory with $2 million in recurring, sustainable funding secured for dental student loan repayment in Florida.

The Florida Reimbursement Assistance for Medical Education program (FRAME, otherwise known as the Dental Student Loan Repayment Program) encourages dentists and orthodontists to serve the Medicaid population in dental health professional shortage areas and medically underserved areas throughout Florida. In exchange for the provider’s commitment, the program provides $50,000 in financial assistance per year for up to 5 years to go toward repayment of dental student loans ($250,000 in eligible funds to qualified candidates for their student loan repayments).

Too often, students must prioritize financial limitations ahead of providing a service to underserved communities. The average student loan debt for orthodontists completing residency is over $560,000. The FRAME program allows them to consider service to the community ahead of the financial burdens of student loan repayment, which ensures opportunity and improved access to quality dental care to Floridian communities—including rural and urban areas– that need it the most. 

For helpful information on how to apply and applicant requirements:

Applications for the first year of FRAME Dental will be accepted between February 15-March 31 through the FRAMEworks portal.

Following the program’s creation in 2019, it had been previously authorized by the State government, but never appropriated (funded), and so the AAO and other stakeholders continued advocating for appropriation.

How the Program Works
Loan reimbursement applications will be prioritized into tiers based upon eligibility and past funding awards. Within each tier, applicants will be prioritized from highest to lowest with scores calculated as a weighted total of 85% of the Adjusted Dental Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score, plus 15% of the Service Score, plus 10% of the percentage of the dentist’s practice that is composed of Medicaid patients.

The HPSA score will consider practice location and patient care hours, while the Serve Score considers your employment dates. HPSA designations identify geographic areas of unmet needs through the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The Florida Department of Health will make payments of up to $50,000 per year, per dentist. If available funds are not exhausted in Tier 1, awards will be issued to applicants in Tier 2, and then Tier 3 following the same methodology.

The AAO thanks the many Florida Association of Orthodontists (FAO) members who took grassroots actions, by reaching out to lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate and then contacting the Governor to advocate for the program to be funded.

The program allows for better dental care access while also investing in Florida’s dental workforce. Additionally, this repayment program provides a unique support solution for orthodontists carrying student loan debt.

The program also provides a model that advocates, including the AAO, hope to implement in other states. The AAO will be able to share this program with other states as a model for expanding access to quality care, workforce enhancement and community development through orthodontists and dentists serving in medically underserved rural and urban areas.

Additionally, the AAO and FAO are working together during this 2024 state legislative session in Florida to increase the recurring funding amount in the Florida budget for the dental student loan repayment program for eligible orthodontists. 

The proposed budget request being considered now by the Florida House and Senate is $6 million.  The final program funding numbers for 2024 will not be known until later this year when the budget is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the Florida governor. There is never a guarantee this program will be funded in any year. That is why our advocacy efforts and grassroots outreach to lawmakers are so important and make all the difference for AAO policy priorities.

Support Advocacy Efforts
The Advocacy team used the AAO Component Legal Support Fund to work with Johnston & Stewart Government Strategies in Florida, to help with this $2 million funding success and other policy priorities. The AAO works to protect the interests of orthodontists and their patients, to ensure the quality of care, and to help practitioners build strong, sustainable businesses.

Contributing to the AAO Political Action Committee (AAOPAC) helps fuel our advocacy success in Washington, D.C. and in states throughout the country. 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of AAOPAC. To learn more and make your special 30th anniversary gift now, please visit AAOPAC.org.