Dental care can occur within or outside the formal health-care system. We hypothesized that certain subject characteristics would partly explain one type of dental self-care, non-professional extractions. A representative sample of diverse groups of dentate adults was studied. In-person interviews and clinical examinations were conducted at baseline, 24, 48, and 72 months, with semi-annual telephone interviews in between. Of 699 participants, 291 (42%) reported loss of at least one tooth, of whom 42 (14% of those with tooth loss) reported having lost the tooth at a place other than a health-care facility. Ninety-four percent of non-professionally lost teeth were self-extracted; relatives extracted the remainder. Fifty-eight percent of these teeth were deliberately removed; the remainder came out while subjects were eating or brushing their teeth, or due to injury. Attachment loss and mobility at previous examination were consistent with the occurrence of non-professional extraction. The incidence magnitude was substantive and persistent throughout follow-up.