Head and neck cancer was the eighth leading cause of cancer death worldwide in 2000. Although the incidence of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) in the United States is relatively low, survival is poor and has not improved for several decades. While tobacco and alcohol are the primary risk factors for HNSCC development, epidemiological studies report a strong association with human papillomavirus (HPV) in a subset of HNSCC. More than 95% of cervical squamous cell carcinomas are linked to persistent HPV infection; evidence demonstrates that HPV is a necessary carcinogen. Not all HPV-positive HNSCC express the viral oncogenes (E6 and E7), which suggests that HPV may function as a carcinogen in a smaller proportion of HNSCC. This review presents our current understanding of the relationship between HPV and HNSCC, and describes future research directions that may lead to a better understanding of the involvement of HPV in head and neck cancer.