This informational paper was prepared by the Research, Science, and Therapy Committee of The American Academy of Periodontology, and is intended for the information of the dental profession. The purpose of the paper is to provide an overview of current knowledge relating to the pathogenesis of periodontal diseases. The paper will review biological processes thought to provide protection against periodontal infections. It will further discuss the mechanisms thought to be responsible for both overcoming and subverting such protective mechanisms and those that lead to destruction of periodontal tissues. Since an understanding of pathogenic mechanisms of disease is one foundation upon which new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities are based, the practitioner can use this information to help make decisions regarding the appropriate application of such new modalities in patient care settings.