Wound healing is divided into three phases: inflammatory, proliferative and remodeling. Mast cells participate in all these phases. The aim of the present study was to determine the effects of propolis on the population of mast cells in oral surgical wounds in comparison to the results obtained with dexamethasone. This study was prospective, in vivo, randomized, semiexperimental, quantitative and comparative animal. A circular surgical wound was made on the dorsum of the tongue of 90 hamsters divided into three experimental groups: topical application of 30% propolis alcoholic extract (Group 1); 0.1% dexamethasone in orabase cream (Group 2); and orabase cream alone (Group 3). Applications were performed every 12 h throughout the experiment. The postoperative times for killing of the animals were 1, 3, 7, 14 and 28 days. The Student's t test for independent samples was employed in the statistical analysis. In the inflammatory phase of healing, propolis caused a greater reduction in the number of mast cells on the edge and in the central region of the surgical wound in comparison to dexamethasone. Moreover, the number of mast cells on day 1 was lower in the central region of the wounds treated with the orabase cream alone in comparison to dexamethasone. In conclusion, the anti-inflammatory action of propolis mediated by mast cells was more effective than dexamethasone in the inflammatory phase of healing.