OBJECTIVES:This study aimed to provide estimates of amounts charged for dental care during 1996 for the US adult population and its major sociodemographic subgroups, and to evaluate whether charges had increased since 1987. METHODS:We used data from the 1996 Medical Expenditures Panel Survey and report results for 12,931 adults aged 19-64 years. For comparison with previously published charges, we converted 1987 charges to their 1996 "constant dollar" value to control for inflation. Data were analyzed using SUDAAN and the results can be generalized to the US adult population. RESULTS:In 1996, 43.7 percent (95% CI=42.7%, 44.6%) of the US population incurred dental care charges, which did not differ significantly from the 1987 estimate of 44.5 percent. In 1996, mean per capita charge for dental care was 182 dollars (95% CI=171 dollars, 192 dollars), which did not differ significantly from the inflation-adjusted 1987 estimate of 174 dollars. The average charge per patient who incurred charges in 1996 was 416 dollars (95% CI=394 dollars, 438 dollars), which was only 7 percent greater than the inflation-adjusted 1987 estimate of 389 dollars (P=.08). Sociodemographic variations were observed in per capita charges, but were less apparent in mean charge per patient who incurred charges. CONCLUSIONS:During a period when economic growth and other market forces were expected to increase delivery of dental services, there was little or no change in percentage of US adults incurring charges or in mean per capita charges. The booming US economy did not raise dental charges significantly and did not increase utilization of dental care services.