To determine risk factors for additional non-sentinel lymph node metastases in neck dissection specimens of patients with early stage oral cancer and a positive sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB). A retrospective analysis of 36 previously untreated SLNB positive patients in our institution and investigation of currently available literature of positive SLNB patients in early stage oral cancer was done. Degree of metastatic involvement [classified as isolated tumor cells (ITC), micro- and macrometastasis] of the sentinel lymph node (SLN), the status of other SLNs, and additional non-SLN metastases in neck dissection specimens were analyzed. Of 27 studies, comprising 511 patients with positive SLNs, the pooled prevalence of non-SLN metastasis in patients with positive SLNs was 31 %. Non-SLN metastases were detected (available from 9 studies) in 13, 20, and 40 % of patients with ITC, micro-, and macrometastasis in the SLN, respectively. The probability of non-SLN metastasis seems to be higher in the case of more than one positive SLN (29 vs. 24 %), the absence of negative SLNs (40 vs. 19 %), and a positive SLN ratio of more than 50 % (38 vs. 19 %). Additional non-SLN metastases were found in 31 % of neck dissections following positive SLNB. The presence of multiple positive SLNs, the absence of negative SLNs, and a positive SLN ratio of more than 50 % may be predictive factors for non-SLN metastases. Classification of SLNs into ITC, micro-, and macrometastasis in the future SLNB studies is important to answer the question if treatment of the neck is always needed after positive SLNB.