Background So far, there are few studies considering the development of dental anxiety and dental attendance patterns across time in the general population of Norwegian adults. This study aimed to 1) determine the frequency of dental anxiety and regular dental attendance among 25-year-olds in Norway in 1997 and 2007, 2) to study the development (time trend) of dental anxiety and the socio-behavioral distribution of dental anxiety from 1997 to 2007. Method Random samples of 1,190 and 8,000 25-yr-olds were drawn from the populations of three counties in Western Norway in 1997 and 2007, respectively. The eligible participants received questionnaires by mail including questions on socio-demographics, dental anxiety (DAS) and dental attendance. Results In 1997, 11.5% males versus 23% females reported high dental anxiety (DAS ≥ 13). Corresponding figures in 2007 were 11.3% and 19.8%. The proportions who had attended yearly for a dental check-up during the past 5 years fell from 62% in 1997 (men 56.9% and women 66.4%) to 44.6% (men 38.1% and women 48.6%) in 2007. After controlling for potential confounding factors, the 25-year-olds were 1.4 times more likely to report dental anxiety in 1997 compared to 2007. The decrease was largely attributable to a lower mean DAS score among higher educated females in 2007 than in 1997. The discrepancy in dental anxiety between regular and non-regular dental attendees had decreased, largely attributable to a decline in dental anxiety among irregular dental attendees. Conclusion The study showed reduced dental anxiety and dental attendance among 25 year-olds in Norway from 1997 to 2007. This study points to the importance of controlling for possible changes in socio-demographic distributions when different cohorts are compared.