AIM: To describe the initial dental health status of British Army Gurkhas who were recruited in 1999 and to compare the present caries data with previous unpublished data from before 1970 and 1983. DESIGN AND SETTING: A clinical examination was conducted on the 228 Gurkhas, the entire UK intake for 1999, during their second week of military training. The focus of the examinations was on caries experience. A questionnaire was employed to collect demographic data as well as information on the recruits' reported dental behaviour and beliefs. RESULTS: 1999 recruits who reported a dental problem within the past year were significantly more likely to have visited a dentist before compared to those recruits who reported no dental problems. The frequency distributions of D3MFT for the 1983 and 1999 recruits were very similar. CONCLUSIONS: Gurkha men are at relatively low risk of dental caries and predicted treatment time suggests a relatively small use of resources would be needed to make this group dentally fit. These recruits are an extremely homogeneous group who remain discernible from the general Nepalese population.