In this study the viability and the distribution of bacteria within the radicular dentin and pulp of periodontally diseased caries-free teeth were studied. Healthy teeth served as controls. Samples were obtained from the pulp tissue and from the radicular dentin. Dentin samples were taken from the interdental surfaces in the subgingival area. Starting from the pulpal side, three to five successive dentin layers of approximately 1 mm thickness were sampled. The samples were processed and cultured using an anaerobic technique. Bacterial growth was detected in 87% of the periodontally diseased teeth. In 83% of the teeth, bacteria were present in at least one of the dentin layers. Fifty-nine percent of the diseased teeth, from which the pulp tissue was cultured, contained bacteria in the pulp samples. The mean bacterial concentrations in the pulp and dentin layers ranged from 1,399 to 16,537 colony-forming units (CFU) per mg of tissue. These concentrations were 259 to 7,190 times greater than concentrations found in healthy teeth. It is suggested that the roots of periodontally diseased teeth could act as bacterial reservoirs from which recolonization of mechanically treated root surfaces can occur, as well as infection of the dental pulp. These findings might change current concepts concerning root surface debridement in periodontal therapy.