The assessment of oral health status and related care of patients is a largely neglected area of nursing practice. With the notable exceptions of high-risk patient groups, such as those receiving chemotherapy in neonatal and intensive care units, and in terminal care, few patients enjoy regular, formal, oral assessments and care. Such interventions--nurse administered oral hygiene--should not be reserved only for high-risk groups but ideally be provided to all patients, whether in hospital or in the community, as they can reveal signs and symptoms of oral disease, manifestations of systemic disease, drug side-effects, or trauma; they may also provide important diagnostic clues. This article sets out to emphasize the need for nurse education in oral health care and provides a literature review and introduction to common oral health problems. It also sets out to establish the rationale for assessment in all contexts of patient care.