Specific microbial species have been closely associated with periodontitis. Through longitudinal studies, some of these microbial species have been implicated in the etiology of progressive periodontal disease. Although putative periodontal pathogens are often isolated from individuals with severe periodontitis, they also frequently inhibit the subgingival environment and are not always associated with advanced disease. In this respect, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no single etiology of the various periodontal diseases. Destructive periodontal diseases are the result of environmental, host, and bacterial factors. Microorganisms, however, are essential components of any model for progressive periodontitis. This paper selectively reviews bacteria as risk markers for periodontitis. Attention focuses on bacteria in conjunction with behavioral patterns (oral hygiene habits and smoking) and host response (gingival crevicular fluid substances) as risk markers for periodontitis. Prospective studies implicating specific bacteria in progressive periodontitis are addressed and a bacterial risk assessment model for progressive periodontitis is discussed with respect to the interplay between bacterial, environmental, and host markers.