Oral cancers and other squamous cell cancers of the head and neck are common cancers in India, primarily due to tobacco chewing/smoking and alcohol consumption. Recent reports indicate involvement of human papillomavirus (HPV), HPV 16, in a subset of squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck (SCCHN) cases. To investigate the types of HPVs present in 83 oral cancers and 19 other head and neck tumors, degenerate primers directed to consensus regions in the HPV L1 open reading frame (ORF) were employed to amplify genomic DNA from tumor and when available, the adjacent normal mucosa. PCR-amplified products were cloned and sequenced. Similar studies were done on exfoliated buccal cells of 102 individuals visiting a dental hospital for dental complaints. HPV was detected in 32 out of 102 patients (31%), in either the tumor or the adjacent normal mucosa, while 5% (5/102) of the comparative group were found to be HPV-positive. Sequence analysis revealed a number of cutaneous HPVs, predominantly HPV types of the genus Beta-Papillomavirus, in the oral cavity. Multiple HPV infections were also commonly observed in patients (14/102; 14%). HPV 16 and 18 were each detected in 6 patients (6/102; 6%). Neither high-risk HPVs nor multiple infections were observed in the mouthwash samples of the comparative group. We report that the oral cavity harbors a variety of different HPVs. These viruses, in conjunction with the carcinogens present in tobacco could contribute to carcinogenesis. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.