Previous studies have not produced a comprehensive mathematical description of the nonlinear viscoelastic stress-strain behavior of the periodontal ligament (PDL). In the present study, the quasi-linear viscoelastic (QLV) model was applied to mechanical tests of the human PDL. Transverse sections of cadaveric premolars were subjected to relaxation tests and loading to failure perpendicular to the plane of section. Distinct and repeatable toe and linear regions of stress-strain behavior were observed. The amount of strain associated with the toe region differed as a function of anatomical location along the tooth root. Stress relaxation behavior was comparable for different anatomical locations. Model predicted peak tissue stresses for cyclic loading were within 11% of experimental values, demonstrating that the QLV approach provided an improved, accurate quantification of PDL mechanical response. The success of the QLV approach supports its usefulness in future efforts of experimental characterization of PDL mechanical behavior. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.