We examined the effects of the saturated series of fatty acids and their esters on plaque bacterial metabolism. Fatty acids with a chain length of 8-15 carbons inhibited Streptococcus mutans and dental plaque in vitro. The glycerol monoesters with a fatty acid chain of 10-14 carbons were inhibitory to a similar extent. The glycolipid (sucrose monolaurate) reduced plaque bacterial glycolysis and sucrose oxidation in a non-competitive manner but stimulated sucrose incorporation at low sucrose concentrations. The relationship between surface activity and inhibition is discussed, since this may help to explain the anti-caries effects of these compounds.