Objective: Previous studies have noted a discrepancy between clinically determined oral health status (normative need), patients' perceptions, and perceived significance of dental signs and symptoms. Our objective was to quantify the relationships between normative need and self-reports to improve our understanding of the factors that contribute to perceived need for care. Methods: Clinical examination and questionnaire data were derived from the Florida Dental Care Study, a study of oral health and dental care, in a representative sample of community-dwelling adults aged ≥45 years. The questionnaire provided information about presence of signs and symptoms, self-ratings of oral health, perceived need for dental care, and sociodemographic status (SDS). Perceived need was measured on a 4-point nominal scale. Results: Self-reported broken filling, broken denture, cavities, loose tooth, teeth that look bad, and toothache were strongly associated with self-reported perceived need for dental care. Satisfaction with dental health was also associated with perceived need, but self-rated oral health was not. Most measures of SDS were associated with perceived need. However, in a single multiple regression, with self-reported signs and symptoms accounted for, race, age group, sex, and educational attainment were not significantly associated with a currently perceived dental problem. Conclusions: Certain dental signs and symptoms were significantly associated with perceived need for dental care, as were certain aspects of SDS; even once differences in dental signs and symptoms had been taken into account. Disaggregating measurement of perceived need from a single dichotomous ('yes/no') scale to a 4-point nominal scale was elucidative.