As oral health status depends greatly on the dental care arrangements available, the aim of this study was to investigate the dental services provided for elderly people living in private old people's homes in Finland. The study involved all 94 old people's homes that offered private care in 1987. The directors of the old people's homes were asked to fill in a questionnaire. The response rate was 100%. The study showed that the dental care arrangements were inadequate: regular oral examinations and comprehensive dental treatment were infrequent. In 96% of the homes the need for treatment normally came to light only when the residents themselves complained about a dental problem. In 60% of the homes the residents had to pay the full cost of their dental treatment. These must be considered the two greatest weaknesses in the dental service for the elderly in the old people's homes studied. The ignorance among the directors of the importance of oral health was alarming: only one fifth considered dental care of the elderly more important than services such as hairdressing. It is obvious that uniform regulations are needed for the whole country concerning dental services for the elderly in institutions.