Actinomyces species are predominant early colonizers of the oral cavity and prime mediators of inter-bacterial adhesion and coaggregation. Previous workers have evaluated the adhesion of Actinomyces spp. by quantitative assessment of sessile, as opposed to planktonic cells attached to substrates, but did not quantify the cell surface interactive forces. Therefore we used atomic force microscopy to directly detect the interactive force between an approaching silicon tip and sessile Actinomyces spp. adhering to a substrate, at nanonewton (nN) range force levels. A total of eight strains each belonging to fimbriated and non-fimbriated Actinomyces species were employed, namely A. bovis, A. gerencseriae, A. israelii, A. meyeri, A. naeslundii genospecies 1 and 2, A. odontolyticus and A. viscosus. The sterile mica discs, used as the adhesion substrate, were immersed in mono-species bacterial suspensions for five days to obtain a thin bacterial biofilm. Interactive forces were measured using a silicon nitride cantilever attached to a Nanoscope IIIA atomic force microscope. The interactive forces between the approaching silicon nitride tip and bacterial biofilm surfaces were randomly quantified at three different locations on each cell; namely, the cell surface proper, the periphery of the cell and the substrate and, the interface between two cells. When the interactive forces at these locations of the same species were compared, significantly higher force levels at the cell-cell interface than the other two locations were noted with A. gerencseriae (P < 0.001), A. viscosus (P < 0.01) and A. israelii (P < 0.05). When the interactive forces of different Actinomyces spp. at an identical location were compared, fimbriated A. naeslundii genospecies 2 showed the greatest interactive force at the cell surface proper (-32.6 +/- 8.7 nN, P < 0.01). A. naeslundii genospecies 1, 2 and A. viscosus demonstrated greater interactive force at the cell-mica periphery than the other five species (P < 0.05); A. viscosus (-34.6 +/- 10.5 nN) displayed greater interactive force at the cell-cell interface than the others (P < 0.01), except for A. gerencseriae (P > 0.05). These data indicate that fimbriated Actinomyces spp., including A. naeslundii genospecies 1, 2 and A. viscosus exert higher cell surface interactive forces than those devoid of fimbriae and, such variable force levels may modulate their adhesion and coaggregation during biofilm formation.