PURPOSE: The cross-infection risks for dentists have been well recognised, and much has been published regarding the incidence of occupational exposures to patient body fluids. Less has been reported regarding the risks to dental assistants. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the incidence of occupational exposures to patient body fluids among dental assistants, to assess the rate of reporting of such incidents, and to evaluate the association of various factors with these exposures. METHOD: All 84 dental assistants working at Birmingham Dental Hospital were asked to complete a confidential questionnaire to provide retrospective information regarding the nature and incidence of any occupational exposures they had experienced. RESULTS: An overall response rate of 94% was achieved. Dental nurses experienced fewer occupational exposures than dental students at the same institution, and reported incidents more frequently. More injuries occurred after the treatment session. Handling local anaesthetic syringes was associated with more injuries, and percutaneous injuries predominated. Trainee nurses had experienced more occupational injuries in the preceding six months than their qualified colleagues. There was no significant association with any of the other factors evaluated. CONCLUSIONS: The general incidence of occupational exposures among the dental assistants in this survey was low in comparison to dental students at the same institution. A further reduction may be possible by increasing the training of unqualified nurses with particular regard to post-treatment handling of sharp dental instruments and equipment.