Early detection of a premalignant or cancerous oral lesion promises to improve the survival and the morbidity of patients suffering from these conditions. Cytological study of oral cells is a non-aggressive technique that is well accepted by the patient, and is therefore an attractive option for the early diagnosis of oral cancer, including epithelial atypia and squamous cell carcinoma. However its usage has been limited so far due to poor sensitivity and specificity in diagnosing oral malignancies. Lately it has re-emerged due to improved methods and it's application in oral precancer and cancer as a diagnostic and predictive method as well as for monitoring patients. Newer diagnostic techniques such as "brush biopsy" and molecular studies have been developed. Recent advances in cytological techniques and novel aspects of applications of scraped or exfoliative cytology for detecting these lesions and predicting their progression or recurrence are reviewed here.