Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the periodontium involving interactions between bacterial products, numerous cell populations and inflammatory mediators. It is generally accepted that periodontitis is initiated by complex and diverse microbial biofilms which form on the teeth, i.e. dental plaque. Substances released from this biofilm such as lipopolysaccharides, antigens and other virulence factors, gain access to the gingival tissue and initiate an inflammatory and immune response, leading to the activation of host defence cells. As a result of cellular activation, inflammatory mediators, including cytokines, chemokines, arachidonic acid metabolites and proteolytic enzymes collectively contribute to tissue destruction and bone resorption. This review summarises recent studies on the pathogenesis of periodontitis, with the main focus on inflammatory mediators and their role in periodontal disease.