OBJECTIVES: To estimate dental expenditures in 2006, to analyse dental expenditures by potential explanatory factors for 2006 and to explore trends in dental expenditures from 1996-2006. METHODS: Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data were used. T-tests and analysis of variance were used to test for significance. Multivariable linear regression analysis was conducted to identify independent predictors of dental expenditures. The trend analysis was conducted for the 11-year period, 1996-2006, on adults aged 25 years and older. Expenditures were inflation adjusted to 2006 dollars using the annual average Consumer Price Index. Data were analysed using the MEPS query tool and SASv9.2. RESULTS: In the 2006 MEPS sample, 8,001 adults had dental expenditures and when weighted represented about 93 million non-institutionalised adult US civilians. The mean dental expenditures for this weighted sample were $611 (sd 1,309), median $233 (inter-quartile range 466). As expected, in 2006, dental expenditures increased with age. Those adults who reported their self-perceived health status as 'excellent' were observed to have lowest dental expenditures in this category. After adjusting for other variables in the multivariable linear regression analysis of dental expenditures, age, race/ethnicity, income, geographic location, perceived health status and dental insurance coverage remained significant. CONCLUSION: Dental expenditures for 2006 were $611 (mean) and $233 (median). The time-trend showed substantial but non-uniform annual changes in real dental expenditures between 1996 and 2006.