, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 1–9 | Cite as

Biofilms, a new approach to the microbiology of dental plaque

  • Jacob M. ten CateEmail author


Dental plaque has the properties of a biofilm, similar to other biofilms found in the body and the environment. Modern molecular biological techniques have identified about 1000 different bacterial species in the dental biofilm, twice as many as can be cultured. Oral biofilms are very heterogeneous in structure. Dense mushroom-like structures originate from the enamel surface, interspersed with bacteria-free channels used as diffusion pathways. The channels are probably filled with an extracellular polysaccharide (EPS) matrix produced by the bacteria. Bacteria in biofilms communicate through signaling molecules, and use this “quorum-sensing” system to optimize their virulence factors and survival. Bacteria in a biofilm have a physiology different from that of planktonic cells. They generally live under nutrient limitation and often in a dormant state. Such “sleepy” bacteria respond differently to antibiotics and antimicrobials, because these agents were generally selected in experiments with metabolically active bacteria. This is one of the explanations as to why antibiotics and antimicrobials are not as successful in the clinic as could be expected from laboratory studies. In addition, it has been found that many therapeutic agents bind to the biofilm EPS matrix before they even reach the bacteria, and are thereby inactivated. Taken together, these fundings highlight why the study of bacteria in the oral cavity is now taken on by studying the biofilms rather than individual species.

Key words

Biofilm Structure Quorum-sensing Antimicrobials 


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Copyright information

© The Society of The Nippon Dental University 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cariology Endodontolgy PedodontologyAcademic Centre for Dentistry (ACTA)AmsterdamThe Netherlands

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