OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to quantify the validity of self-reported receipt of dental services in 10 categories, using information from dental charts as the "gold standard." METHODS: The Florida Dental Care Study was a prospective cohort study of a diverse sample of adults. In-person interviews were conducted at baseline and at 24 and 48 months following baseline, with telephone interviews at six-month intervals in between. Participants reported new dental visits, reason(s) for the visit(s), and specific service(s) received. For the present study, self-reported data were compared with data from patients' dental charts. RESULTS: Percent concordance between self-report and dental charts ranged from 82% to 100%, while Kappa values ranged from 0.33 to 0.91. Bivariate multiple logistic regressions were performed for each of the service categories, with two outcomes: self-reported service receipt and service receipt determined from the dental chart. Parameter estimate intervals overlapped for each of the four hypothesized predictors of service receipt (age group, sex, "race" defined as non-Hispanic African American vs. non-Hispanic white, and annual household income < 20,000 US dollars vs. > or = 20,000 US dollars), although for five of the 10 service categories, there were differences in conclusions about statistical significance for certain predictors. CONCLUSIONS: The validity of self-reported use of dental services ranged from poor to excellent, depending upon the service type. Regression estimates using either the self-reported or chart-validated measure yielded similar results overall, but conclusions about key predictors of service use differed in some instances. Self-reported dental service use is valid for some, but not all, service types.