Spurred by an initiative by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in the USA, this article presents the need for a change in clinical dental research towards practice-based research. It outlines the shortcomings of past and present-day research in dentistry, with emphasis on the lack of clinical relevance of much of the research performed. The slow transfer of sound research findings to clinical practice is also a major problem. The article reviews some problems related to restorative dentistry and how they have adversely affected general dental practice. Practice-based research places emphasis on the problems experienced by clinicians in the routine care of patients. Clinicians should be linked together in research networks. The problems they face in dental practice and the clinical experience they have will form the basis for studies by the network. Experienced clinical researchers will provide guidance and statistical support for the studies initiated by the clinicians. © 2005 Taylor & Francis.