Aim Although older adults have high dental care needs as a result of prevalent oral health problems, they have high unmet needs. The purpose of the present study was to examine factors associated with unmet dental care needs among older adults living in the community. Methods This study analyzed 1419 adults aged 65 years and older who participated in both the health interview survey and oral examination of the Fifth Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey carried out in 2010. Predisposing (age, sex, education, marital status), enabling (place of residence, work status, income, health insurance) and need (self‐rated oral health, difficulty chewing, toothache, number of teeth, dental caries, periodontal disease) factors associated with self‐perceived unmet dental care needs were analyzed through multiple logistic regression analysis. Results Unmet dental care needs accounted for 27.9% in older adults. Age, income, difficulty chewing and the presence of permanent tooth caries were significantly associated with unmet dental care needs, adjusting for covariates. Compared with those aged 75 years and older, the 65–69 years age group showed 1.86‐fold higher odds of unmet dental care needs. Lower household income was associated with a higher likelihood of not receiving dental care when required. Unmet dental care needs were significantly higher among those with chewing difficulty (OR 2.14, 95% CI 1.55, 2.95) and permanent tooth caries (OR 1.86, 95% CI 1.28–2.70). Conclusions Unmet dental care needs are prevalent in older people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and vulnerable in oral health. Geriatr Gerontol Int 2017; ••: ••–••.