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Apoptosis is a genetically programmed form of cell death, which primarily functions to eliminate senescent or altered cells that are useless or harmful for the multicellular organism. Contrary to necrosis, apoptosis represents a physiologic cellular mechanism, normal function and control of which are critical for the development and homeostasis of multicellular organisms. In contrast, aberrations of the apoptotic mechanisms that cause excessive or deficient programmed cell death have been linked to a wide array of pathologic conditions. This review briefly summarizes the major apoptotic pathways and molecules and presents the most important oral diseases that are related to dysregulation of apoptosis. Knowledge of the association between aberrations in apoptotic mechanisms and human pathology hopefully will be implemented for the design of improved diagnostic and prognostic assays and the development of novel, more efficient, therapeutic strategies.