This investigation studied how the behaviour of isolated osteoblasts on standard tissue culture polystyrene compared with cells cultured on cut surfaces of dentin, a natural calcified material. Cellular attachment, viability and growth were monitored in parallel cultures of human osteosarcoma cell lines (MG63, HOS TE85, SaOS-2) and primary human osteoblast-like cells (HOBs). Culture plastic was either left untreated or roughened with abrasive paper of various grit sizes (4000–1200 grit) in order to obtain a level of roughness comparable to that of the dentin slices. Cell counting and intracellular BCECF staining showed that after an initial incubation of 2h, the primary cells attached and spread out more quickly on the different substrates than the three cell lines. The primary cells also showed a stronger mitochondrial staining and viability on dentin. During subsequent culture morphological differences appeared with the cells on dentin displaying more cellular extensions. All three cell lines proliferated more slowly on dentin than on plastic. In contrast, the primary HOBs were not significantly affected in their growth by the different substrates. Total and specific alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity of the cell lines was not significantly affected by the different substrates after short-term adhesion, but it was increased for the primary cells on the dentin. However, after 2–3 days of culture, AP was decreased on the dentin slices for both the cell lines and primary HOBs. Plasma treatment of the roughened plastic did not alter cellular viability or AP activity, suggesting that grinding of the surface did not affect the property of the culture plastic to support cell attachment and growth. In conclusion, the results show that not only do osteoblastic cells behave differently on a natural calcified substrate surface than on standard culture plastic, but also that differences were evident between the various cell types, in particular the primary HOBversus the continuous cell lines.