Importance: The assessment and management of surgical margins in stage I and II oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most important perioperative aspects of oncologic care, with profound implications for patient outcomes and adjuvant therapy. Understanding and critically reviewing the existing data surrounding margins in this context is necessary to rigorously care for this challenging group of patients and minimize patient morbidity and mortality. Observations: This review discusses the data related to the definitions related to surgical margins, methods for assessment, specimen vs tumor bed margin evaluation, and re-resection of positive margins. The observations presented emphasize notable controversy within the field about margin assessment, with early data coalescing around several key aspects of management, although studies are limited by their design. Conclusions and Relevance: Stage I and II oral cavity cancer requires surgical resection with negative margins to obtain optimal oncologic outcomes, but controversy persists over margin assessment. Future studies with improved, well-controlled study designs are required to more definitively guide margin assessment and management..