Resumo BACKGROUND: Students' motives for studying Dentistry have been a subject of interest for years because of the potential for understanding the psychological makeup and subsequent job satisfaction for the dentist. It is also useful in identifying expectations of the profession. This study therefore tried to identify study motives and career preferences of dental students especially with respect to the practice of paediatric dentistry. METHODS: This was a cross-sectional study using a self-administered questionnaire. The final year students in six dental schools in Nigeria were required to fill the questionnaire. Students were asked to rank their motives and career preferences on a Likert like scale with points ranging from 0-5 where 0 represented a factor that had no influence on their decision and 5 represented a very influential factor. The underlying dimensions for study motives, career preference, impression about and motive for interest in the practice of paediatric dentistry were identified using factor analysis. RESULTS: One hundred and seventy nine of 223 students (80.3%) participated in this study. Motives for the practice of dentistry included characteristics of the profession, altruism and intellectual challenges, existence of artistic theme in dentistry and parent's recommendation. Overall, 67.1% of respondents indicated interest in postgraduate studies and 50.8% were interested in paediatric dentistry practice. The main motives for showing interest in the practice of paediatric dentistry were 'personal interest, professional interest and interest of significant others in children', and 'family influence'. Significantly more males than females were interested in the practice of paediatric dentistry though the motives for interest in the practice of paediatric dentistry did not differ significantly by sex or age. CONCLUSION: The non-significant sex difference in the motives for interest in the practice of paediatric dentistry is a possible reflection of changes in strong cultural themes in the motives for career choices in Nigeria.