AIM: To elicit children's views on the established visual examination method used for the epidemiological surveillance of dental caries and an experimental intra-oral photographic examination method. METHOD: Focus group interviews were conducted with 5-year-olds (with the aid of a puppet) and 10/11-year-olds (without puppet) after experiencing both methods. Ten focus groups were conducted in each cohort. RESULTS: The children's views on the methods related to the acceptability of their experience. The key factors affecting acceptability and preferences related to the combined effects of contextual factors prior to the examination and experiences during the examination. These included communication and children's expectations. These factors influenced the examination experience along with their feelings about the environment and the tactile sensation from instruments in the mouth. Most children preferred the experimental photographic method as a means of caries detection over the traditional visual examination. They also wanted feedback on their oral health and more communication on what was happening during the examination. CONCLUSION Appropriate communication, attention to the examination environment and handling of instruments can enhance the dental examination experience for children in the school setting. The children's preferences indicated that generally, the intra-oral camera was well received as a means of caries detection for epidemiological studies within the school setting. These results may have implications for seeking ethical approval and conducting epidemiological studies on children in the future.