Correlations of oral bacterial arginine and urea catabolism with caries experience

Oral Microbiol Immunol. 2009 Apr;24(2):89-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-302X.2008.00477.x.


Background/aim: Alkali generation by oral bacteria plays a key role in plaque pH homeostasis and may be a major impediment to the development of dental caries. To determine if the capacity of oral samples to produce ammonia from arginine or urea was related to caries experience, the arginine deiminase system (ADS) and urease activity in saliva and dental plaque samples were measured in 45 adult subjects.

Methods: The subjects were divided into three groups according to caries status; 13 caries-free (CF) individuals (decayed, missing, and filled teeth = 0); 21 caries-active (CA) individuals (decayed teeth >or= 4); and 11 caries-experienced (CE) individuals (decayed teeth = 0; missing and filled teeth > 0). Real-time polymerase chain reaction was used to quantify the proportion of certain acid- or alkali-producing organisms in the samples.

Results: The amount of ammonia generated from the test substrates by plaque samples was generally higher than that produced by salivary samples in all groups. Significantly higher levels of salivary ADS activity and plaque urease activity were observed in CF subjects compared to CA subjects (P = 0.0004 and P = 0.014, respectively). The proportions of Streptococcus mutans from saliva and dental plaque of CA subjects were significantly higher than those from the CF group (P = 0.0153 and P = 0.0009, respectively). In the CA group, there was an inverse relationship between urease activity and the levels of S. mutans (P < 0.0001).

Conclusion: This study supports the theory that increased caries risk is associated with reduced alkali-generating capacity of the bacteria colonizing the oral cavity; providing compelling evidence to further our understanding of oral alkali-generation in health and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actinomyces / enzymology
  • Adult
  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Arginine / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dental Caries / enzymology
  • Dental Caries / microbiology*
  • Dental Plaque / enzymology
  • Dental Plaque / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Hydrolysis
  • Male
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Saliva / enzymology
  • Saliva / microbiology
  • Streptococcus gordonii / enzymology
  • Streptococcus mutans / enzymology
  • Streptococcus sanguis / enzymology
  • Urea / metabolism*
  • Urease / metabolism


  • Ammonia
  • Urea
  • Arginine
  • Hydrolases
  • Urease
  • arginine deiminase