OBJECTIVE: To explore the oral health beliefs and practices of primary health care professionals which may act as barriers to the development of a model of shared care for the oral health of pre-school children. DESIGN: Qualitative focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. SETTING: Four rural local government areas in Victoria, Australia, 2003. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: SUBJECTS: maternal and child health nurses, general medical practitioners, dental professionals and paediatricians working in the four local government areas. DATA COLLECTION: discipline specific focus groups and semi-structured interviews. DATA ANALYSIS: transcription, coding, clustering and thematic analysis. RESULTS: Several strong themes emerged from the data. All participants agreed that dental caries is a significant health issue for young children and their families. Beliefs about the aetiology of dental caries and its prevention were variable and often simplistic focusing predominantly on diet. Dental professionals did not believe that they had a primary role in the oral health of pre-school aged children but that others particularly maternal and child health nurses did. However other health care professionals were not confident in assuming this role. CONCLUSIONS: This study has identified important barriers and possible strategies for the development of an integrated and shared approach to preventing dental caries in pre-school aged children. Clear and consistent oral health information and agreed roles and responsibilities need to be developed.