The etiologic role of oral treponemes in human periodontitis is still under debate. Although seen by dark-field microscopy in large numbers, their possible role is still unclear since they comprise some 60 different phylotypes, most of which are still uncultured. To determine their status as mere commensals or opportunistic pathogens, molecular epidemiological studies are required that include both cultured and as-yet-uncultured organisms. Here we present such data, comparing treponemal populations from chronic periodontitis (CP) or generalized aggressive periodontitis (GAP) patients. As a periodontitis-resistant (PR) control group, we included elderly volunteers with more than 20 natural teeth and no history of periodontal treatment and no or minimal clinical signs of periodontitis. Almost every treponemal phylotype was present in all three groups. For most treponemes, the proportion of subjects positive for a certain species or phylotype was higher in both periodontitis groups than in the PR group. This difference was pronounced for treponemes of the phylogenetic groups II and IV and for Treponema socranskii and Treponema lecithinolyticum. Between the periodontitis groups the only significant differences were seen for T. socranskii and T. lecithinolyticum, which were found more often in periodontal pockets of GAP patients than of CP patients. In contrast, no difference was found for Treponema denticola. Our findings, however, strengthen the hypothesis of treponemes being opportunistic pathogens. It appears that T. socranskii, T. lecithinolyticum and group II and IV treponemes may represent good indicators for periodontitis and suggest the value of the respective probes for microbiological diagnosis in periodontitis subjects.