Orthodontic tooth movement occurs as a result of resorption and formation of the alveolar bone due to an applied load, but the stimulus responsible for triggering orthodontic tooth movement remains the subject of debate. It has been suggested that the periodontal ligament (PDL) plays a key role. However, the mechanical function of the PDL in orthodontic tooth movement is not well understood as most mechanical models of the PDL to date have ignored the fibrous structure of the PDL. In this study we use finite element (FE) analysis to investigate the strains in the alveolar bone due to occlusal and orthodontic loads when PDL is modelled as a fibrous structure as compared to modelling PDL as a layer of solid material. The results show that the tension-only nature of the fibres essentially suspends the tooth in the tooth socket and their inclusion in FE models makes a significant difference to both the magnitude and distribution of strains produced in the surrounding bone. The results indicate that the PDL fibres have a very important role in load transfer between the teeth and alveolar bone and should be considered in FE studies investigating the biomechanics of orthodontic tooth movement.