Determining whether two strains of bacteria are unique, identical or clonally related depends upon comparisons of phenotypic and/or genotypic traits. Individual isolates can then be grouped according to differences or similarities among those traits. One method of genotyping strains of bacteria is commonly referred to as chromosomal DNA fingerprinting. Previously, we generated chromosomal DNA fingerprints of mutans streptococci to study the transmission of this organism within families. Here, we developed and evaluated an arbitrarily primed polymerase chain reaction (AP-PCR) method for the genotypic characterization of mutans streptococci. Results were compared to those derived from the more conventional chromosomal DNA fingerprinting method. First, we showed that randomly selected clinical isolates displayed a unique banding profile by both methods; the mean similarity indices between DNA fragment patterns were 0.69 for chromosomal DNA fingerprinting and 0.74 for AP-PCR. This indicated that AP-PCR demonstrated less diversity than chromosomal DNA fingerprinting. Subsequently, we tested the agreement between chromosomal DNA fingerprinting and AP-PCR in determining genotypic similarities among 21 mutans streptococci strains obtained from 10 mother-child pairs, and 5 mutans streptococci strains from 5 fathers. The Kappa value for agreement was 0.88. We conclude that AP-PCR, which generates patterns of 8 to 12 amplicons, is capable of distinguishing strains of mutans streptococci among non-related individuals. Moreover, AP-PCR can discern both homogeneity and heterogeneity of mutans streptococci genotypes among mother and child pairs. Overall, we found that AP-PCR gave results comparable to those of chromosomal DNA fingerprinting.