This paper describes tools used to measure periodontal diseases and the integration of these tools into surveillance systems. Tools to measure periodontal diseases at the surveillance level have focussed on current manifestations of disease (e.g. gingival inflammation) or disease sequelae (e.g. periodontal pocket depth or loss of attachment). All tools reviewed in this paper were developed based on the state of the science of the pathophysiology of periodontal disease at the time of their design and the need to provide valid and reliable measurements of the presence and severity of periodontal diseases. Therefore, some of these tools are no longer valid. Others, such as loss of periodontal attachment, are the current de-facto tools but demand many resources to undertake periodical assessment of the periodontal health of populations. Less complex tools such as the Community Periodontal Index, have been used extensively to report periodontal status. Laboratory tests for detecting putative microorganisms or inflammatory agents present in periodontal diseases have been used at the clinical level, and at least one has been tested at the population level. Other approaches, such as self-report measures, are currently under validation. In this paper, we do not review indices designed to measure plaque or residual accumulation around the tooth, indices focussed only on gingival inflammation or radiographic approaches with limited applicability in surveillance systems. Finally, we review current case-definitions proposed for surveillance of periodontal disease severity.