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Adv Dent Res. 2000 Dec;14:29-39.

Saliva and dental plaque.

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Department of Oral Science, School of Dentistry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


Dental plaque is being redefined as oral biofilm. Diverse overlapping microbial consortia are present on all oral tissues. Biofilms are structured, displaying features like channels and projections. Constituent species switch back and forth between sessile and planktonic phases. Saliva is the medium for planktonic suspension. Several major functions can be defined for saliva in relation to oral biofilm. It serves as a medium for transporting planktonic bacteria within and between mouths. Bacteria in transit may be vulnerable to negative selection. Salivary agglutinins may prevent reattachment to surfaces. Killing by antimicrobial proteins may lead to attachment of dead cells. Salivary proteins form conditioning films on all oral surfaces. This contributes to positive selection for microbial adherence. Saliva carries chemical messengers which allow live adherent cells to sense a critical density of conspecifics. Growth begins, and thick biofilms may become resistant to antimicrobial substances. Salivary macromolecules may be catabolized, but salivary flow also may clear dietary substrates. Salivary proteins act in ways that benefit both host and microbe. All have multiple functions, and many do the same job. They form heterotypic complexes, which may exist in large micelle-like structures. These issues make it useful to compare subjects whose saliva functions differently. We have developed a simultaneous assay for aggregation, killing, live adherence, and dead adherence of oral species. Screening of 149 subjects has defined high killing/low adherence, low killing/high adherence, high killing/high adherence, and low killing/low adherence groups. These will be evaluated for differences in their flora.

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