Phylogenetic analysis of bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA was used to examine polymicrobial communities within infected root canals of 20 symptomatic and 14 asymptomatic patients. Nucleotide sequences from approximately 750 clones amplified from each patient group with universal bacterial primers were matched to the Ribosomal Database Project II database. Phylotypes from 37 genera representing Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Fusobacteria and Proteobacteria were identified. Results were compared to those obtained with species-specific primers designed to detect Prevotella intermedia, Porphyromonas gingivalis, Porphyromonas endodontalis, Peptostreptococcus micros, Enterococcus sp., Streptococcus sp., Fusobacterium nucleatum, Tannerella forsythensis and Treponema denticola. Since members of the domain Archaea have been implicated in the severity of periodontal disease, and a recent report confirms that archaea are present in endodontic infections, 16S archaeal primers were also used to detect which patients carried these prokaryotes, to determine if their presence correlated with severity of the clinical symptoms. A Methanobrevibacter oralis-like species was detected in one asymptomatic and one symptomatic patient. DNA from root canals of these two patients was further analysed using species-specific primers to determine bacterial cohabitants. Trep. denticola was detected in the asymptomatic but not the symptomatic patient. Conversely, Porph. endodontalis was found in the symptomatic but not the asymptomatic patient. All other species except enterococci were detected with the species-specific primers in both patients. These results confirm the presence of archaea in root canals and provide additional insights into the polymicrobial communities in endodontic infections associated with clinical symptoms.