OBJECTIVES: To explore the impact of developmental defects of enamel (DDE) on young people, through their experiences of the condition and it’s meaning to their everyday lives. METHODS: The theoretical framework chosen to guide the study was symbolic interactionism. Qualitative interviews with a purposive sample of people aged 10-15 years with varying severities of DDE were conducted in the young person’s home. The interviews were audio-taped and transcribed verbatim. The data were analysed using constant comparative method. Photographs of participants’ teeth were taken and scored using the Thystrup and Fejerskov index (TFI) and the modified developmental defects of enamel index. RESULTS: Twenty-one participants were interviewed before data saturation occurred. The TFI scores ranged from 0 to 5, 11 participants had diffuse opacities and 5 had demarcated opacities. The impact of DDE was described in terms of the degree to which young people were ‘bothered’ ranging from ‘not bothered’ to ‘really quite bothered’. DDE impacted on individuals whose sense of self was defined by appearance and who depended on perceived approval from others about their appearance. No links between gender, age, severity of DDE and impact were apparent. CONCLUSION: Variations in the impact of DDE were related to defining aspects of sense of self rather than the enamel defects. This research is the first to discover that the sense of self explains variation in the impact of DDE.