Oxygen metabolism, oxidative stress and acid-base physiology of dental plaque biofilms

J Ind Microbiol. 1995 Sep;15(3):198-207. doi: 10.1007/BF01569826.


Dental plaque is a natural biofilm which has been a focus of attention for many years because of its known roles in caries and periodontal diseases. Acid production by plaque bacteria leads to the erosion of tooth mineral in caries, and the cariogenicity of plaque is related to population levels of acid-tolerant organisms such as mutans streptococci. However, the biofilm character of plaque allows for survival of a diverse flora, including less acid-tolerant organisms, some of which can produce ammonia from arginine or urea to counter acidification. Plaque is often considered to be relatively anaerobic. However, evidence is presented here that both supragingival and subgingival plaque have active oxygen metabolism and that plaque bacteria, including anaerobes, have developed defenses against oxidative stress. Even in subgingival plaque associated with periodontitis, measured residual oxygen levels are sufficient to allow for oxygen metabolism by organisms considered to be extremely anaerobic such as Treponema denticola, which metabolizes oxygen by means of NADH oxidases and produces the protective enzymes superoxide dismutase and NADH peroxidase. The finding that plaque bacteria produce a variety of protective enzymes is a good indicator that oxidative stress is a part of their everyday life. The biofilm character of plaque allows for population diversity and coexistence of aerobes, anaerobes and microaerophiles. Overall, agents that affect oxidative metabolism offer possibilities for reducing the pathogenic activities of plaque.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Dental Plaque / etiology
  • Dental Plaque / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Oxygen Consumption