BACKGROUND: Why oral health status outside capital cities is poorer than that in capital cities has not been satisfactorily explained. The aim of this study was to determine if the reason was poorer access to dental care. METHODS: Data were obtained from the Australian National Survey of Adult Oral Health (2004-06). Oral health status was measured by DMFT Index, and numbers of decayed, missing and filled teeth. A two-step analysis was undertaken: comparing the dependent variables by location, socio-demographic confounders and preventive dental behaviours, and then including six access to dental care variables. RESULTS: Of the 14 123 people interviewed, 5505 were examined, and 4170 completed the questionnaire. With socio-economic parameters in the first regression model, non-capital city people had higher DMFT (regression coefficient = 1.15, p < 0.01), more decayed (0.42, p < 0.01) and missing teeth (0.85, p < 0.01), but not filled teeth (-0.11, p = 0.71), than capital city based people. In the second step analysis, non-capital city people still had a greater DMFT (1.01, p < 0.01), more decayed (0.27, p = 0.03) and missing teeth (0.74, p < 0.01), but not filled teeth (0.00, p = 0.99) than capital city based people. CONCLUSIONS: Access to dental care was not the only reason why people outside capital cities have poorer oral health than people living in capital cities.