BACKGROUND: The 2003 Children's Dental Health Survey is the fourth of the 10-yearly surveys of children's oral health in the United Kingdom. AIM: To detail the reported experience of dental services and dental treatment amongst children in the UK. METHOD: A self-completion questionnaire was distributed to a 50% sub-sample of parents or carers of the children who were clinically examined in the 2003 UK Child Dental Health Survey. This included questions relating to parental and child experience of dental services and dental treatment. RESULTS: The proportion of UK five-year-olds reported as not having visited the dentist fell from 14% in 1983 to 6% in 2003 and the proportion reported as having visited the dentist before the age of two rose from 7% in 1983 to 31% in 2003. Over 80% of all children were reported to seek regular dental check-ups. Around 10% were reported to have had some difficulty in accessing NHS dental care while 5% of five-year-olds were reported to have experienced a general anaesthetic for dental procedures in 2003. Dental attendance was associated with social class and mothers' reported attendance patterns. CONCLUSIONS: In line with previously reported trends, the 2003 survey of children in the United Kingdom shows improvements in several areas but some aspects of attendance pattern continue to be associated with social class and mothers' attendance pattern. It is of concern that 10% of five-year-olds reported having experienced extractions and 5% general anaesthesia for dental treatment.