The purpose of this study was to investigate whether there was an intrafamilial similarity of mutans streptococcal strains in some Swedish families using chromosomal DNA fingerprinting. Plaque samples were obtained from buccal and occlusal surfaces of 25 three-year-old children, their mothers and 18 fathers. The colonization levels of mutans streptococci were estimated with the "Strip mutans" test, and caries experience was scored by decayed, missing and filled teeth or decayed, extracted and filled teeth. Interviews about medical history, diet regimes, breastfeeding and care of the child were performed. In 11 families isolates of mutans streptococci were detected in all three individuals. These isolates were serotyped by immunofluorescent technique and genotyped using the restriction endonuclease Hae III. The results showed that 5 children harbored mutans streptococci genotypes different from their parents. Six children showed genotypes identical to their mothers. None of the children harbored genotypes similar to their fathers, even though two thirds of the fathers had high or very high mutans streptococci levels. No matching of genotypes was observed within the 11 parental pairs. Mothers as primary caregivers with high "Strip mutans" scores were more often observed in the group with identical genotypes within the mother-child pairs, the "matching group", than in the "no-matching group". These data indicate that the fathers and the children had not acquired each others' strains of mutans streptococci nor had the spouses. The results suggest that the children acquired mutans streptococci both from outside and inside the family.