The occurrence of dental caries is mainly associated with oral pathogens, especially cariogenic Streptococcus mutans. Preliminary antibacterial screening revealed that the extract of Myristica fragrans, widely cultivated for the spice and flavor of foods, possessed strong inhibitory activity against S. mutans. The anticariogenic compound was successfully isolated from the methanol extract of M. fragrans by repeated silica gel chromatography, and its structure was identified as macelignan by instrumental analysis using 1D-NMR, 2D-NMR and EI-MS. The minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of macelignan against S. mutans was 3.9 microg/ml, which was much lower than those of other natural anticariogenic agents such as 15.6 microg/ml of sanguinarine, 250 microg/ml of eucalyptol, 500 microg/ml of menthol and thymol, and 1000 microg/ml of methyl salicylate. Macelignan also possessed preferential activity against other oral microorganisms such as Streptococcus sobrinus, Streptococcus salivarius, Streptococcus sanguis, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei in the MIC range of 2-31.3 microg/ml. In particular, the bactericidal test showed that macelignan, at a concentration of 20 microg/ml, completely inactivated S. mutans in 1 min. The specific activity and fast-effectiveness of macelignan against oral bacteria strongly suggest that it could be employed as a natural antibacterial agent in functional foods or oral care products.