The attitudes of dental patients towards participation in research and the independent socioeconomic factors associated with these attitudes are not known. A self-administered questionnaire was distributed to 120 patients attending dental clinics in Amman, Jordan. For patients who had previously participated in research (n = 28), motivating factors for most (> 75%) included a desire to help others and to advance science. Most respondents (81.7%) showed interest in participating in questionnaire-based research, but fewer would participate in invasive research, e.g. biopsies (22.0%) and drilling teeth (21.2%). Reasons given for not participating in research included fear of infectious diseases (71.3%) and pain (62.1%). Factors considered important in enhancing research participation included being asked to give informed consent (98.2%), fairness in selection of participants (97.3%) and the prospect of humanitarian benefit (96.5%). Sex and education level were significantly associated with patients’ perceptions for several of items. To enhance recruitment, researchers should be aware of people’s perspectives regarding participation in research.