Oral microbial biofilms and plaque-related diseases: microbial communities and their role in the shift from oral health to disease

Clin Oral Investig. 2003 Dec;7(4):181-8. doi: 10.1007/s00784-003-0236-1. Epub 2003 Nov 4.


Many oral pathologies, such as dental caries, periodontal disease and peri-implantitis are plaque-related. Dental plaque is a microbial biofilm formed by organisms tightly bound to a solid substrate and each other by means of an exopolymer matrix. Bacteria exhibit different properties when contained within a biofilm. Knowing the mechanisms controlling the formation and development of biofilms can help to understand the emergence and progression of such pathologies and to plan effective treatment. Most periodontal pathogens are common saprophytes of the oral cavity, expressing their virulence only in a susceptible host or when some changes come about in the oral environment. Physical, metabolic and physiological interactions may cause positive or negative effects among the various microbiota present. Such mechanisms of antagonism/synergy select the bacterial population and alterations of its composition affect the balance with the host and may lead to pathology. The effectiveness of antimicrobial agents, as measured through in vitro tests, is dramatically reduced in vivo due to the properties of the microbial community: mature, intact biofilms are less sensitive to such agents, as the exopolymer matrix, bacterial enzymes and slow growth rate hinder the action of chemotherapeutic agents. The present literature review aims to examine the most representative studies, focusing on the characteristics of bacterial communities and the crucial shift from oral health to plaque-related diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Dental Plaque / complications
  • Dental Plaque / microbiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Humans
  • Periodontal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Periodontal Diseases / etiology*


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local