According to the dental acts of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, emphasis is placed on preventive dental care. The purpose of this study was to describe and compare two aspects of the caries preventive services: the strategies and the resource allocation for preventive dental care of children and adolescents in Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Questionnaires were sent to samples of dentists and other dental personnel who provided preventive care to children during 1995 and 1996. Comparisons between the countries showed significant differences in recall routines and in implementation of risk-based and population-based preventive strategies. Multivariate analyses showed that the time used for preventive care varied by country and was not associated with the DMFT of the children. More time was allocated for prevention when more operating dental auxiliaries were available at the clinic, when the recall interval was shorter, when the time used for routine examination was longer and when the clinician was an auxiliary rather than a dentist. In conclusion, resource allocation and strategies used for prevention were not consistent between the countries.