to study the utilization and access to dental services in brazil, and assess differentials across socioeconomic strata, data from the pesquisa nacional por amostragem de domicílios, 1998 (pnad/ibge), was used. the analysis, adjusted for the sampling design, showed a low level of utilization of dental services. among children 0-6 years of age, 77% had never seen a dentist, and among adults 20-49 years, 4%. in the latter group, the proportion of people that had never been to the dentist in the poorest 20% was 16 times higher than in the richest 20%. the proportion of people visiting a dentist in the year before the interview was greatest in the group 0-6 years of age, rich children presenting a prevalence 5 times higher than the poor ones. about 4% of those who sought dental care did not get it. the proportion was 8% among the poorest compared to 1% among the richest. most of the attendances (68%) was paid by the national health system among the poorest, while 63% of them were directly paid by the richest. great inequalities were found in the access and utilization of dental services, maximal exactly among the groups showing smaller access or utilization. the participation of the national health system in dental care is much lower than in medical care.