Objective To describe racial differences in receipt of dental services and dental insurance; and to determine the effectiveness of specific dental services in facilitating recovery in symptom-specific and race-specific subgroups. Study design and setting Using a restricted cohort analytic method, Florida Dental Care Study prospective cohort data were used to quantify associations between dental service use and the quality of life measure, "recovery" from oral disadvantage due to functional limitation. Results Non-Hispanic Whites (NHW) were more likely to have a dental visit [odds ratio (OR); 95% confidence interval: 3.5; 2.2-5.3], corrective treatment (OR=2.1; 1.3-3.3), caps (OR=28.8; 6.6-126.4), and dental insurance coverage for caps (OR=2.9; 1.4-5.9). After adjusting for other covariates: (1) among NHW with severe gum disease, those receiving extractions were more likely to recover (OR=7.8; 1.0-59.1), but those receiving caps were less likely to recover (OR=0.1; 0.01-0.6); (2) among Non-Hispanic Blacks (NHB) with a sensitive tooth, those receiving corrective treatment (OR=3.2; 1.2-8.8) or extractions (OR=3.8; 1.3-11.2) were more likely to recover; (3) among NHB with tooth disease, those receiving corrective treatment (OR=2.3; 1.0-5.0) and extractions (OR=2.8; 1.2-6.5) were more likely to recover. Conclusion There were racial differences in dental insurance, in the receipt of dental services and in the effectiveness of dental services in improving oral health-related quality of life. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.