The use of high resolution, in vivo optical imaging may offer a clinically useful adjunct to standard histopathologic techniques. A pilot study was performed to investigate the diagnostic capabilities of optical coherence microscopy (OCM) to discriminate between normal and abnormal oral tissue. Our objective is to determine whether OCM, a technique combining the subcellular resolution of confocal microscopy with the coherence gating and heterodyne detection of optical coherence tomography, has the same ability as confocal microscopy to detect morphological changes present in precancers of the epithelium while providing superior penetration depths. We report our results using OCM to characterize the features of normal and neoplastic oral mucosa excised from 13 subjects. Specifically, we use optical coherence and confocal microscopic images obtained from human oral biopsy specimens at various depths from the mucosal surface to examine the optical properties that distinguish normal and neoplastic oral mucosa. An analysis of penetration depths achieved by the OCM and its associated confocal arm found that the OCM consistently imaged more deeply. Extraction of scattering coefficients from reflected nuclear intensity is successful in nonhyperkeratotic layers and shows differentiation between scattering properties of normal and dysplastic epithelium and invasive cancer. © 2004 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.