objective: to evaluate the role of socioeconomic variables and self-perceived oral health in the polarization of caries among adolescents in santa bárbara d'oeste, brazil. material and methods: cross-sectional study. sampling was randomized and sample size was defined according to who criteria. two hundred and seventy seven adolescents (15 to 18 year-old) were examined by five trained examiners that assessed dmft index according to who criteria. self-perceived oral health, access to dental services and socio-demographic variables were self-reported. student's t tests, chi-square tests, and multivariate logistic regression (with significant caries index (sic) as the outcome), were performed. results: mean dmft was 5.48 (±4.22) and the proportion of "caries free" subjects was 15.5%. mean dmft (9.71±2.85) and mean d (1.67±2.18) of sic positive subjects were significantly higher than mean dmft (2.88±2.17) and mean d (0.45±0.87) of sic negative subjects (p<0.0001). mean d of white (0.76±1.51) was significantly smaller than mean d of non-white subjects (1.32±2.01). the only variable independently associated with the "sic positive" outcome was "report of toothache within six months prior to the study" [or=1.83 (95%ci 1.08 to 3.12)], p<0.001. conclusion: sic was associated with "report of toothache" but not with socio-demographic variables in the studied population.