Abstract: The aim of this study was to document perceptions of oral health of community-dwelling elderly people and how it had been affected through life. Twelve individuals (mean age 78.2 years) were gradually recruited to an interview study. The interviews were conducted as conversations, and the topics in a guide model were introduced only if they did not arise spontaneously. The interviews lasted 60–90 min and were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim and analysed by the phenomenological–hermeneutic method. The interviews dealt with perceptions of growing old, life style, general health, former dental experiences, dental care in adult life, current oral health, general medical care, dental care, oral hygiene, dental hygienist care and the level of participation in treatment decisions. The interviewees were generally satisfied with their present oral health and often referred to their parents' oral problems as deterrents. Dental experiences from childhood, in association with the welfare state and personal financial security, were factors which influenced attitudes and perceptions of oral health and oral care. Although dental care was regarded as very expensive, it had been given priority over other expenses in adult life. The results confirm that the dental hygienist must take into account the importance of oral health to well being in old age and be aware that in elderly people, perception of personal oral health is multifactorial, influenced by life-long experience.