© 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Rationale, aims and objectives: The objectives of this study were to: (1) examine differences in the use of dental clinical practice guidelines among Japanese dentists, and (2) identify characteristics associated with the number of guidelines used by participating dentists. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study consisting of a questionnaire survey in Japan between July 2014 and May 2015. The study queried dentists working in outpatient dental practices who are affiliated with the Dental Practice-Based Research Network Japan (n = 148). They were asked whether they have used each of 15 Japanese dental clinical guidelines. Associations between the number of guidelines used by participants and specific characteristics were analysed via negative binomial regression analysis. Results: The mean number of guidelines used by participating dentists was 2.5 ± 2.9 [standard deviation (SD)]. Rate of use of guidelines showed substantial variation, from 5% to 34% among dentists. The proportion of dentists that used guidelines was the highest among oral medicine specialists, who had the highest proportion for 10 of 15 guidelines. Negative binomial regression analysis identified three factors significantly associated with the number of guidelines used: ‘years since graduation from dental school’, ‘specialty practice’ and ‘practice busyness’. Conclusions: These results suggest that the use of clinical practice guidelines by Japanese dentists may still be inadequate. Training in the use of the guidelines could be given to dental students as undergraduate education and to young clinicians as continuing education.