The objective of this study was to explore access to dental care for low-income communities from the perspectives of low-income people, dentists and related health and social service-providers. The case study included 60 interviews involving, low-income adults (N = 41), dentists (N = 6) and health and social service-providers (N = 13). The analysis explores perceptions of need, evidence of unmet needs, and three dimensions of access--affordability, availability and acceptability. The study describes the sometimes poor fit between private dental practice and the public oral health needs of low-income individuals. Dentists and low-income patients alike explained how the current model of private dental practice and fee-for-service payments do not work well because of patients' concerns about the cost of dentistry, dentists' reluctance to treat this population, and the cultural incompatibility of most private practices to the needs of low-income communities. There is a poor fit between private practice dentistry, public dental benefits and the oral health needs of low-income communities, and other responses are needed to address the multiple dimensions of access to dentistry, including community dental clinics sensitive to the special needs of low-income people.