The aim of this study was to identify and compare the attitudes of dental students towards dental education in Japan and China. Fifty-four dental students from the Stomatology School of China Medical University and 51 dental students from the Dental Faculty of Kyushu University, Japan, participated in this study. Information was derived from a self-answered questionnaire consisting of 11 items. Significant differences in the responses of the participants from the two countries were detected for 10 of the questionnaire items (P < 0.05). Nearly three-quarters of the Japanese students were satisfied with the teaching faculties of their schools, while only a quarter of the Chinese students indicated satisfaction. A total of 69% of Chinese students thought that learning a foreign language wasted too much time compared with none of the Japanese students. A student-oriented teaching mode was not well accepted by either of the groups, and 62% of Chinese students and 53% of Japanese students wanted to increase the duration of the clinical practice stage of education. The findings from this study enhance our understanding of differences and/or similarities among dental students in the two nations. This information may help to define strategies to improve the quality of dental education, and especially exchange programmes of international students.