Prevotella intermedia has recently been re-defined and a new species, Prevotella nigrescens has been proposed. However, there is little data available on the incidence of these new species in periodontal health or disease. Black-pigmented anaerobes isolated from diseased and healthy subgingival sites were identified by serotyping, SDS-PAGE and physiological tests. In adult periodontitis subjects, 64% of active sites, 35.7% of inactive sites and 38.5% of healthy sites yielded black-pigmented anaerobes. Of these, Porphyromonas gingivalis was found in 11% of active and 5% of healthy sites in diseased patients, Prevotella intermedia in 15.5% of active and 20.5% of healthy sites, Prevotella nigrescens in 37.7% of active and 11.5% of healthy sites and Prevotella denticola in 3% of active and 1% of healthy sites. In healthy subjects, 50% of sites yielded black-pigmented anaerobes. P. gingivalis was not found in healthy subjects but P. intermedia was found in 18% and P. nigrescens in 31% of sites. SDS-PAGE proved to be a useful method for routinely differentiating P. intermedia and P. nigrescens and two sub-types of the latter species were detected on the basis of band pattern. Only one P. nigrescens sub-type was found in any given individual and one type, typified by ATCC 25261, was more commonly found in deep pockets. However, overall both P. nigrescens and P. intermedia as species were just as frequently found at healthy sites as diseased sites. Thus, these species, in contrast to P. gingivalis, appear to be common commensals but they may act as opportunistic pathogens.