this study focused on the characteristics associated with use of dental services during the previous year by brazilian elderly (with and without teeth) participating in the brazilian oral health survey (ministry of health, 2002/2003). 345 were dentate and 669 edentulous. prevalence of use was 32% and 11%, respectively. multivariate logistic regression showed that for dentate elders, use of dental services was more frequent among those who perceived their voices as influenced by oral health. less frequent use was associated with: residence in rural areas; low income; current oral problems; fewer than two teeth in at least one sextant of the arch; need for dentures; and worse self-perceived appearance. among edentulous elders, more frequent use was associated with: 5 to 8 years of schooling; pain; and poor self-perceived appearance. use was less frequent among elders with current oral problems and those who perceived that their personal relations were influenced by oral health. the analysis reviewed the differences between dentate and edentulous individuals. use of dental services was less common among individuals who needed them the most, suggesting inequality in access to such services among the brazilian elderly.