Natural teeth are equipped with periodontal mechanoreceptors that signal information about tooth loads. In the present review, the basic force-encoding properties of human periodontal receptors will be presented along with a discussion about their likely functional role in the control of human mastication. Microneurographic recordings from single nerve fibres reveal that human periodontal receptors adapt slowly to maintained tooth loads. Most receptors are broadly tuned to the direction of force application, and about half respond to forces applied to more than one tooth. Populations of periodontal receptors, nevertheless, reliably encode information about both the teeth stimulated, and the direction of forces applied to the individual teeth. Information about the magnitude of tooth loads is made available in the mean firing rate response of periodontal receptors. Most receptors exhibit a markedly curved relationship between discharge rate and force amplitude, featuring the highest sensitivity to changes in tooth load at very low force levels (below 1 N for anterior teeth and 4 N for posterior teeth). Thus, periodontal receptors efficiently encode tooth load when subjects contact and gently manipulate food using the teeth. It is demonstrated that signals from periodontal receptors are used in the fine motor control of the jaw and it is clear from studies of various patient groups (e.g. patients with dental implants) that important sensory-motor functions are lost or impaired when these receptors are removed during the extraction of teeth.