Immuno-surveillance networks operating at barrier sites are tuned by local tissue cues to ensure effective immunity. Site-specific commensal bacteria provide key signals ensuring host defense in the skin and gut. However, how the oral microbiome and tissue-specific signals balance immunity and regulation at the gingiva, a key oral barrier, remains minimally explored. In contrast to the skin and gut, we demonstrate that gingiva-resident T helper 17 (Th17) cells developed via a commensal colonization-independent mechanism. Accumulation of Th17 cells at the gingiva was driven in response to the physiological barrier damage that occurs during mastication. Physiological mechanical damage, via induction of interleukin 6 (IL-6) from epithelial cells, tailored effector T cell function, promoting increases in gingival Th17 cell numbers. These data highlight that diverse tissue-specific mechanisms govern education of Th17 cell responses and demonstrate that mechanical damage helps define the immune tone of this important oral barrier.