In clinical periodontology it is common practice to sample subgingival plaque from periodontitis patients and to search for the presence of alleged periodontal pathogens using routine laboratory techniques such as culture, DNA-DNA hybridization or real-time PCR. Usually, special attention is given to the recognition of 'red complex' microorganisms and to Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. Recently, molecular open-ended techniques have been introduced which are distinct from the more 'classical' approaches in that they do not preselect for certain species. In this study, we investigated to what extent the outcome of these techniques has changed our insight into the composition of the subgingival microbiota and whether this has consequences on clinical decision making. The open-ended approaches showed that the composition of subgingival plaque is much more complex than previously thought. Next to the 'classical' putative periodontal pathogens, several non-culturable and fastidious species are now recognized as being associated with periodontitis, thus enlarging the group of suspected periodontal pathogens. We conclude that routine analyses of subgingival plaque in the clinic are not necessarily of benefit to the patient.