Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein complex intimately associated with cell immortalization and neoplastic transformation. In almost all types of cancer this enzyme is reactivated and stabilizes telomere length. It may be necessary for continuous cell proliferation. In this study we used a non-radioactive polymerase chain reaction assay to analyze telomerase activity in various tissue specimens taken from the oral cavity. Four of 4(100%) squamous cell carcinoma cell lines, 28 of 29 (96%) malignant tumors, 10 of 28 (36%) benign lesions, and none of the 14 (0%) oral control tissues possessed telomerase activity. Moreover, 4 of 15 (27%) oral rinses and 3 of 3(100%) samples of ascites and pleural effusion taken from patients with oral malignancy were telomerase positive. These findings indicate that the evaluation of telomerase activity in tissue and body fluid specimens may provide information useful in the diagnosis of oral malignancy.