Changes in sucrose-induced plaque pH profiles and the microbial composition of occlusal tooth surface fissures were analyzed using wire telemetry and bacterial culturing techniques. Four human volunteers wore appliances containing artificial fissures constructed with ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) electrodes for 1, 2 and 4 days; 1 subject kept the electrode for 3 weeks. After monitoring the plaque pH response at the base of the fissure to a 10% (w/v) sucrose rinse the plaque was removed and analyzed for total viable bacteria, total and specific streptococci, lactobacilli and Actinomyces spp. One-day-old plaque showed a rapid drop in plaque pH to a minimum of 4.8 +/- 0.2, with 2-day-old plaque showing the most acidogenic pH profile (minimum pH 4.6 +/- 0.2). The 4-day-old plaque response was less acidogenic (minimum pH 5.0 +/- 0.3) than the results from days 1 and 2. Responses from 13- and 21-day-old fissure plaques showed greatly decreased acidogenic responses (day 21 minimum pH 5.7). Viable bacteria recovered from the fissure increased from approximately 4 x 10(6) colony-forming units on day 1 to 1.2 x 10(7) on days 2 and 4 and 1.7 x 10(7) on day 21. Streptococci (greater than 50%) and Actinomyces (greater than 10%) dominated in the fissure plaques and their levels were related to minimum pH. Since fissure plaque of all ages tested contained high concentrations of acidogenic bacteria, the decreased acidogenic response at the base of fissures with increasing plaque age suggests that maturing fissure plaques provide an increasingly greater diffusion barrier to fermentable carbohydrates.