To evaluate the role of inhibitory substances produced by bacteria in the oral cavity, we estimated, by a deferred test on Todd-Hewitt agar enriched with hemin and vitamin K, the proportion of bacteria that inhibited or stimulated the growth of Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis, from the saliva of 109 patients (54 males and 55 females) attending our dental clinics. The patients, aged from 8 to 75 years old (mean: 31 +/- 18 years), were randomly selected whatever the reason for their visit. The results, evaluated with the Spearman rank test, indicated that there was no statistically significant (P > 0.05) correlation between the proportion of salivary bacteria inhibiting or stimulating P. gingivalis with the Community Periodontal Index of Treatment Needs (CPITN), the number of carious, missing and filled teeth, or with the decayed, missing and filled teeth index (DMFT). Also, no statistically significant correlation was observed between the proportion of salivary bacteria stimulating the growth of S. mutans and the above mentioned health indexes. However, a statistically significant (P < 0.005) negative correlation was found between the percentage of cultivated bacteria that inhibit S. mutans and the percentage of untreated carious teeth as well as with the CPITN. The results thus indicate a possible role for inhibitory substances produced by bacteria in the maintenance of oral health.