The oral epithelium is the site of first exposure of HIV-1 to host tissues during oral sex with an infected partner or through breast-feeding by an infected mother. Although the oral epithelium is distinguishable by its apparent resistance, the mucosal surfaces represent a primary target of HIV-1. After oral exposure and swallowing, infection is detected prominently in the gastrointestinal tract, which becomes depleted of CD4+ T-cells. The oral cavity and palatine tonsils appear to resist infection and transfer to susceptible lymphoid cells in the lamina propria by local anti-HIV-1 mechanisms. In some cases, expression of these antiviral mechanisms increases after exposure to HIV-1. During primary exposure and before seroconversion, based on limited in vitro and primate data, a window of opportunity for capture of HIV-1 by the oral epithelium may exist. After seroconversion, the risk of infectious HIV-1 appearing in saliva is negligible. This report considers evidence that oral epithelium has the potential both to enable and to resist infection by HIV-1.