Tannerella forsythia is among the most potent triggers of periodontal diseases, and approaches to understand underlying mechanisms are currently intensively pursued. A similar to 22-nm-thick, 2D crystalline surface (S-) layer that completely covers Tannerella forsythia cells is crucially involved in the bacterium-host cross-talk. The S-layer is composed of two intercalating glycoproteins (TfsA-GP, TfsB-GP) that are aligned into a periodic lattice. To characterize this unique S-layer structure at the nanometer scale directly on intact T. forsythia cells, three complementary methods, i.e., small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), atomic force microscopy (AFM), and single-molecular force spectroscopy (SMFS), were applied. SAXS served as a difference method using signals from wild-type and S-layer-deficient cells for data evaluation, revealing two possible models for the assembly of the glycoproteins. Direct high-resolution imaging of the outer surface of T. forsythia wild-type cells by AFM revealed a p4 structure with a lattice constant of similar to 9.0 nm. In contrast, on mutant cells, no periodic lattice could be visualized. Additionally, SMFS was used to probe specific interaction forces between an anti-TfsA antibody coupled to the AFM tip and the S-layer as present on T. forsythia wild-type and mutant cells, displaying TfsA-GP alone. Unbinding forces between the antibody and wild-type cells were greater than with mutant cells. This indicated that the TfsA-GP is not so strongly attached to the mutant cell surface when the co-assembling TfsB-GP is missing. Altogether, the data gained from SAXS, AFM, and SMFS confirm the current model of the S-layer architecture with two intercalating S-layer glycoproteins and TfsA-GP being mainly outwardly oriented. Copyright (c) 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.