The purpose of this study was to describe race/ethnic differences in the use of formal health care services for painful oral symptoms by older adults. We also considered the sex of the respondent rather than assuming that males and females within a specific racial group would use health care services similarly. To our knowledge, these specific utilization patterns have never been reported before in the pain literature. Telephone interviews were conducted on a stratified random sample of 1636 community dwelling older (65+) north Floridians. A total of 5860 households were contacted and screened, with 75.3% participating to the point where their eligibility for the study could be determined. Overall race/ethnic differences in patterns of health care use for orofacial pain were not found. However, when we stratified race/ethnicity by sex, Black females (37.6%) were the least likely to have visited a health care provider, followed by non-Hispanic White females (47.2%), non-Hispanic White males (49.3%), and Black males (62.7%). Point estimates of odds ratio, adjusting for financial differences, indicate that more non-Hispanic White males (OR=1.79) and Black males (OR=2.74) visited a health care provider than Black females. Our results also suggest that for older Black adults, financial constraints have a more significant impact on decisions about health care for orofacial pain than they do for non-Hispanic Whites. For non-Hispanic White respondents, characteristics of the pain symptoms were significant determinates of health care use for their painful oral symptoms. Pain at its worst was a positive predictor for four of the five analyses (jaw joint pain, painful oral sores, temperature sensitivity, and toothache pain). The duration variable (years with pain) was a negative predictor of health care use. This is consistent with the conclusion that individuals seek care early in the course of the symptom, i.e. an active care seeking phase, make emotional or physical adjustments, and then resign themselves to the symptoms. © 2002 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.