Although negative dental experiences are often cited as the major factor in the development of dental anxiety, very few studies have provided data on their prevalence. The studies that are available used limited samples from which it is not possible to generalise, or confined their enquiries to painful experiences only. In this paper data are provided on negative dental experiences and their relationship to dental anxiety obtained from a large, random sample of the general population. Just over three-quarters reported what are termed as direct negative experiences; 71 per cent had had experiences that were painful, 23 per cent experiences that were frightening and 9 per cent experiences that were embarrassing. Such experiences were not confined to childhood. For 23 per cent, the first experience of this kind happened during adolescence and for 40 per cent in adulthood. The relationship between these experiences and dental anxiety was strong. Subjects reporting all three types of experience were 22.4 times at risk of being dentally anxious than subjects reporting none of them. The data suggested that the nature of these unpleasant experiences was more important than the age at which they occurred in predicting dental anxiety. One third of dentally anxious subjects reported a negative response experience in the form of feeling faint, fainting or having a panic attack while at the dentist. Further research using more appropriate methods is needed to clarify the role of dental experiences in the genesis of dental anxiety.