Metal ions are known to influence the cariogenicity of dental plaque. Inhibition of acid metabolism in plaque may be of importance in this respect. Metal ions inhibit the acidogenicity of dental plaque to a different extent and it has been suggested that an enzyme inhibition based on oxidation of thiol groups may explain this observation. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the significance of oxidation of thiol groups in the inhibition of acid production in plaque by silver, tin and zinc salts. Nine subjects with 3-d sucrose induced plaque received topical applications of the metal ions. Cysteine or glutathione, which are known to reverse thiol oxidations, were then applied in one side of the mouth. Plaque pH measurements, in the presence of sucrose, were performed prior to and up to 2 h after treatment. The results showed that the acid production inhibited by the metal ions was reactivated by cysteine or glutathione. Iodoacetamide and p-chloromercuribenzoate were also shown to inhibit acid formation in dental plaque. The high affinity silver, tin and zinc have for SH groups, the observed inhibitory effect of these metals, the reactivation of the metabolism by monothiols and the fact that organic sulfhydryl reagents inhibit acid formation in plaque indicate that oxidation of thiol groups may be the mechanism by which these metals exert their effect.