Aims: To establish the referral pathways underlying the diagnosis of oral cancer in Ireland. Method: All cases of malignant oral cancer identified within a well-defined geographical area by the Southern Tumour Registry, Southern Ireland, over an 8-year period from 1983 to 1990 were examined. Results: Three-hundred and eighty-eight cases of oral cancer were registered during the study period. While two-thirds (66.7%) of referrals originated from general medical practitioners, only 14.7% of the series were initiated by a dental practitioner. However, there was substantial inter-site variation in this regard. For example, while only 2.8% of lip lesions were sourced from dental practice, the corresponding rates were 50% and 52.2% for gum and floor of mouth cancers, respectively. Conclusion: While lower dental visit rates among the elderly places an upper limit on the feasible role of dental practitioners in the early detection of oral cancer, nevertheless there seems to be significant scope for increased awareness among dentists in relation to their potential contribution. Similarly, there is clearly a compelling rationale for close inter-disciplinary strategies with the objective of accelerating the rate of early detection.