There has been little improvement in the survival of patients with oral cancer despite advances in treatment, and late presentation of the disease is one reason for this poor outcome. Research and experience tell us that tuition in medical schools about examination of the oral cavity is poor. We aimed to ascertain the opinions and experience of students regarding this in our institution by dissemination of a web-based anonymous questionnaire that focused on education about examination of the oral cavity and experience in carrying it out. From a cohort of 600 students 458 (76%) responded. A total of 334 (73%) had not been taught how to examine the oral cavity, 372 (81%) had had no experience of doing so in patients, and only 13/86 (15%) felt confident to diagnose a carcinoma of the lip or oral cavity. Eighty-nine percent felt that the tuition given had not been adequate. Examination of the oral cavity cannot be considered part of the core clinical curriculum, and medical schools and departments of oral and maxillofacial surgery urgently need to embrace the introduction of the necessary skills. (C) 2011 The British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.