With increased use of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) for head and neck treatment questions have arisen as to selection of an optimum treatment approach when either superficial sparing or treatment is desired. Other work has pointed out the increased superficial dose resulting from obliquity effects when multiple tangential beams are applied to head and neck treatment, as is the general case in IMRT planning. Helical tomotherapy might be expected to result in even further enhanced superficial dose compared with conventional bilateral field treatment. We have designed a typical right oropharynx target volume in an anthropomorphic head and neck phantom. Three different treatment techniques have been used to optimally treat this target, including bilateral static fields, eight-field IMRT and helical tomotherapy. The phantom was immobilized in a standard treatment position and treated on a Varian 2300cd linear accelerator and on a Hi-Art Helical Tomotherapy unit. 1 mm3 lithium-fluoride thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) were placed on the surface of the phantom at a number of axial test positions. Film strips (Kodak EDR2) were either wrapped around the surface or sandwiched within the phantom. Measured doses at the surface and as a function of depth are compared with the planning system predictions for each treatment technique. The maximum surface doses on the proximal treatment side, averaged from TLDs and films, were measured to be 69-82% of the target dose with the bilateral fields yielding the lowest surface doses (69%), tomotherapy about 2% more than that (71%) and IMRT 13% more (82%). Anterior to the target volume, doses are always low for bilateral treatment. In this case the minimum anterior surface dose (chin area) was 6% of the prescription dose from that technique as compared with 26% and 35% from the IMRT and tomotherapy methods, respectively. The Eclipse and Tomotherapy planning systems both modelled deep and superficial doses well. Surface doses were better modelled by Eclipse at the test points, while the tomotherapy plans consistently overestimated the measured doses by 10% or more. Depth dose measurements, extracted from embedded films, indicated the depth of dose build-up to >99% to be the shallowest for IMRT (2-5 mm) followed by tomotherapy (5-8 mm) and bilateral fields (10-15 mm). The amount of surface dose is clearly technique dependent and should be taken into account in the planning stage.