Background Low expectations of health mean that oral health becomes a low priority for some people, an appreciation of which would help dentists when a non-attender does come to the surgery.Objective To provide an insight into why oral health is not important to some people and how this attitude might hinder access to dental care.Method In this qualitative study, purposive sampling was used to recruit two groups of participants with sociably visible missing, decayed or broken teeth but apparently differing responses to that status. The data analysis used social systems theory as operationalised by grounded theory techniques.Results The core category that emerged from the data was that people constructed their own 'margins of the relevance' of oral health. For some people oral health was highly relevant whilst for others it was not very relevant. The degree of relevance of oral health was organised along seven dimensions: the perceived 'normal' state of oral health, the perceived causes of oral health and disease, the degree of trust held in dentistry, perceptions of oral 'health' as a commodity, perceptions of the accessibility of oral health care, perceptions of 'natural' oral health and judgements of character.Conclusions If certain aspects of oral health are not relevant, little that is said about those aspects will be meaningful to people. The key is to either emphasize or gently challenge those ideas and beliefs that allow or hinder the margins of relevance.