Background: Most microorganisms in nature attach to surfaces and form matrix-embedded biofilms. Biofilms are highly structured and spatially organized, and are often composed of consortia of interacting microorganisms, termed microbial communities, the properties of which are more than the sum of the component species. Microbial gene expression alters markedly in biofilms; organisms communicate by gene transfer and by secretion of diffusible signalling molecules. Cells in biofilms are less susceptible to antimicrobial agents.
Aim and materials & methods: To comprehensively review the literature to determine whether dental plaque displays properties consistent with those of a typical biofilm and microbial community.
Results: Novel microscopic and molecular techniques have demonstrated that plaque has a structured architecture with an extracellular matrix, and a diverse composition (around 50% of cells are unculturable). The constituent species communicate by gene transfer, by secreted peptides (gram-positive bacteria) and autoinducer-2 (gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria). These organisms are functionally organized for increased metabolic efficiency, greater resistance to stress and for enhanced virulence. Plaque formation has direct and indirect effects on gene expression.
Conclusion: Dental plaque displays properties that are typical of biofilms and microbial communities in general, a clinical consequence of which is a reduced susceptibility to antimicrobial agents as well as pathogenic synergism.