This study assessed the extent of household catastrophic expenditure in dental health care and its possible determinants in 41 low and middle income countries. Data from 182,007 respondents aged 18 years and over (69,315 in 18 low income countries, 59,645 in 15 lower middle income countries and 53,047 in 8 upper middle income countries) who participated in the WHO World Health Survey (WHS) were analyzed. Expenditure in dental health care was defined as catastrophic if it was equal to or higher than 40% of the household capacity to pay. A number of individual and country-level factors were assessed as potential determinants of catastrophic dental health expenditure (CDHE) in multilevel logistic regression with individuals nested within countries. Up to 7% of households in low and middle income countries faced CDHE in the last 4 weeks. This proportion rose up to 35% among households that incurred some dental health expenditure within the same period. The multilevel model showed that wealthier, urban and larger households and more economically developed countries had higher odds of facing CDHE. The results of this study show that payments for dental health care can be a considerable burden on households, to the extent of preventing expenditure on basic necessities. They also help characterize households more likely to incur catastrophic expenditure on dental health care. Alternative health care financing strategies and policies targeted to improve fairness in financial contribution are urgently required in low and middle income countries.