Telomere dysfunction participates in malignant transformation and tumorigenesis. Previous studies have explored the associations between telomere length (TL) and cancer susceptibility; however, the findings are inconclusive. The associations between genetic variants and TL have been verified by quite a few genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Yet, to date, there was no published study on the relationship between TL, related genetic variants and susceptibility to squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) in Chinese. Hence, we detected relative telomere length (RTL) by using quantitative PCR and genotyped seven selected single nucleotide polymorphisms by TaqMan allelic discrimination assay in 510 SCCHN cases and 913 controls in southeast Chinese. The results showed that RTL was significantly associated with SCCHN risk [(adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.19, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.08-1.32, P = 0.001]. Furthermore, among seven selected SNPs, only G allele of rs2736100 related to RTL in Caucasians was significantly associated with both the decreased RTL (P = 0.002) and the increased susceptibility to SCCHN in Chinese (additive model: adjusted OR = 1.17, 95%CI = 1.00-1.38, P = 0.049). These findings provide evidence that shortened TL is a risk factor for SCCHN, and genetic variants can contribute to both TL and the susceptibility to SCCHN in southeast Chinese population.