Twenty-eight young, healthy adults completed an experimental gingivitis study in which blood and clinical recordings were obtained at baseline; after a 4-week period of thorough oral hygiene; after a subsequent 3-week period of plaque accumulation; and after another 2 weeks of thorough oral hygiene. Serum immunoglobulin G antibodies against whole cells of Porphyromonas gingivalis, Prevotella intermedia, Fusobacterium nucleatum and Streptococcus sanguis were determined using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Mean serum immunoglobulin G antibody levels to P. intermedia, F. nucleatum and S. sanguis remained essentially constant during the experiment, whereas the immunoglobulin G antibodies to P. gingivalis declined during the initial period of oral hygiene and the subsequent period of plaque accumulation to an average of 84.5% of the baseline value. This reduction could be attributed to the people who developed marked gingival inflammation during the period of plaque accumulation, indicating that the systemic host response may be associated with local tissue responses to variations in oral hygiene. These people were, however, also characterized by higher initial serum immunoglobulin G responses to P. gingivalis than people who developed less pronounced gingival inflammation during the experiment. The variability and individuality noted in the host response to potential pathogens have important implications for attempts to use such measures for establishing a diagnosis or prognosis for the individual patient.