This study tested the hypothesis that severe periodontitis in persons with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) increases the risk of poor glycemic control. Data from the longitudinal study of residents of the Gila River Indian Community were analyzed for dentate subjects aged 18 to 67, comprising all those: 1) diagnosed at baseline with NIDDM (at least 200 mg/dL plasma glucose after a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test); 2) with baseline glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1) less than 9%; and 3) who remained dentate during the 2-year follow-up period. Medical and dental examinations were conducted at 2-year intervals. Severe periodontitis was specified two ways for separate analyses: 1) as baseline periodontal attachment loss of 6 mm or more on at least one index tooth; and 2) baseline radiographic bone loss of 50% or more on at least one tooth. Clinical data for loss of periodontal attachment were available for 80 subjects who had at least one follow-up examination, 9 of whom had two follow-up examinations at 2-year intervals after baseline. Radiographic bone loss data were available for 88 subjects who had at least one follow-up examination, 17 of whom had two follow-up examinations. Poor glycemic control was specified as the presence of HbA, of 9% or more at follow-up. To increase the sample size, observations from baseline to second examination and from second to third examinations were combined. To control for non-independence of observations, generalized estimating equations (GEE) were used for regression modeling. Severe periodontitis at baseline was associated with increased risk of poor glycemic control at follow-up. Other statistically significant covariates in the GEE models were: 1) baseline age; 2) level of glycemic control at baseline; 3) having more severe NIDDM at baseline; 4) duration of NIDDM; and 5) smoking at baseline. These results support considering severe periodontitis as a risk factor for poor glycemic control and suggest that physicians treating patients with NIDDM should be alert to the signs of severe periodontitis in managing NIDDM.