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Gingival Epithelium
Tooth (Mandibular First Molar)

Gingival Epithelium

Epithelium gingivale

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Quick Facts

The gingival epithelium is the stratified squamous epithelium covering the gingiva and lining the gingival sulcus; it varies in architecture according to location, functional demands, and adaptation (Dorland, 2011).

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Structure and/or Key Feature(s)

Gingival epithelium is an umbrella term for the cells lining the external surface of the gingiva, the junctional epithelium, and the epithelium covering the gingival sulcus.

The epithelium of the attached gingiva is predominantly a parakeratinized stratified squamous epithelial layer. The nature of the epithelium obscures the extensive vascular supply in the lamina propria which gives the tissue its pinkish color. The underlying lamina propria has tall connective tissue papillae and rete pegs which gives the tissue it’s stippled appearance (Fehrenbach and Popowics, 2015).

While most oral mucosa is parakeratinized, the marginal gingiva has a distinctive surface layer of orthokeratinized stratified squamous epithelium. Orthokeratinized epithelium is a specific type of epithelium in which the cells of the keratin component are nucleus free. Parakeratinized epithelium, on the other hand, contains nucleated keratinocytes (Wolf and Rateitschak-Pluss, 2011).

The gingival sulcus is described as the inner surface of the free gingiva which lies next to the tooth. The epithelium of the gingival sulcus is nonkeratinized and described as stratified squamous.

Apical to the epithelium and surrounding the neck of each tooth, the junctional epithelium is also a nonkeratinized stratified squamous epithelial lining.


The keratinized outer epithelial layer of the free (marginal) gingiva, the attached gingiva and interdental papillae functions as a protective tissue. The junctional epithelium has a specific role in which it is responsible for the attachment of the marginal gingiva to the tooth surface and protects against periodontal diseases (Rajendran and Sivapathasundharam, 2014).


Dorland, W. (2011) Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 32nd edn. Philadelphia, USA: Elsevier Saunders.

Fehrenbach, M. J. and Popowics, T. (2015) Illustrated Dental Embryology, Histology, and Anatomy - E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hand, A. R. and Frank, M. E. (2015) Fundamentals of Oral Histology and Physiology. Wiley.

Rajendran, A. and Sivapathasundharam, B. (2014) Shafer's Textbook of Oral Pathology. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Wolf, H. F. and Rateitschak-Pluss, E. M. (2011) Color Atlas of Dental Medicine: Periodontology: Periodontology. Thieme.

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