Telomerase activation has very important implications for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), but the regulatory mechanisms of telomerase in HNSCC remain unclear. In our present study, we found that miR-512-5P was markedly downregulated in telomerase-positive HNSCC cell lines. Both in vitro and in vivo assays revealed that miR-512-5P mimic attenuated HNSCC cell proliferation, and tumor growth in nude mice, which exerts its tumor suppressor function through elevated apoptosis, inhibition of the telomerase activity, decrease of telomere-binding proteins and shortening of telomere length by human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) downregulation. Furthermore, the dual-luciferase reporter gene assay results demonstrated that hTERT was a direct target of miR-512-5P. We conclude that the frequently miR-512-5P overexpression can regulate hTERT and function as a tumor suppressor in HNSCC. Therefore, miR-512-5P may serve as a potential therapeutic agent for miR-based HNSCC therapy.