The thermal oxidation of aluminum nitride was developed as a means to study defects in bulk aluminum nitride crystals. The oxidation kinetics was established for the dry oxidation of highly textured AlN polycrystals produced by sublimation-recombination crystal growth in a tungsten furnace. Despite seeding on polycrystalline tungsten, the grains were predominantly  oriented as verified by electron backscattering diffraction (EBSD). The oxidation rate is dependent on the crystals orientation, polarity, stress, and surface condition, thus oxidation decorates grain boundaries, polishing scratches, and inversion domains by producing oxide layers of different thicknesses. The initial oxidation rate of nitrogen polar (0001) AlN is approximately 25% faster than on aluminum polar crystals. Low temperature (800 C) dry oxidation produced an amorphous oxide layer and generated a high density of defects (vacancies, stacking faults, and dislocations) in the nitride near the oxide/nitride interface, as observed by cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy. In contrast, high temperature oxidation (1000 C) produced a crystalline oxide layer, and left the nitride free of observable defects.