Terminal restriction fragment-length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis was applied to characterize oral bacterial flora in saliva from 18 healthy subjects and 18 patients with periodontitis. The 16S rRNA genes (rDNAs) of oral bacteria and spirochaetes in saliva were amplified by PCR with a 6'carboxy-fluorescein (6-FAM)-labelled universal forward primer (27F) and a universal reverse primer (1492R) or the Spirochaeta-selective reverse primer. The 16S rDNAs were digested with restriction enzymes with 4 bp recognition sites (HhaI or MspI) and analysed by using an automated DNA sequencer. T-RFLP patterns were numerically analysed using a computer program. From analysis of the oral bacterial community, patterns derived from periodontally healthy subjects and patients with periodontitis were grouped into different clusters, though with some uncertainty. Samples from patients with periodontitis tended to cluster into their respective types (aggressive and chronic periodontitis), although this was not very clear. Analysis of spirochaetal community using T-RFLP showed that the patterns derived from patients with periodontitis were grouped more as compared with the analysis of the oral bacterial community. These results suggest that samples from patients with periodontitis contain an unexpected diversity. T-RFLP patterns of 16S rDNAs from saliva samples of two periodontally healthy subjects over a 5-week period showed host-specific relatively stable oral bacterial flora. Our study indicates that T-RFLP analysis is useful for the assessment of diversity of oral bacterial flora and rapid comparison of the community structure between subjects with and without periodontitis.