The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of preceding fluconazole treatment on the oral mycologic flora and on the sensitivity of oral Candida albicans isolates to fluconazole. Saline oral rinses were collected from 89 HIV-positive patients, of whom 48 had been exposed to fluconazole and 41 were fluconazole-naive. The rinses were cultured on Sabouraud's and Pagano Levin agars, and yeasts were identified by standard methods. Fluconazole sensitivity of C. albicans isolates was measured by disk diffusion assay. C. albicans was isolated from 69% of patients who had received fluconazole and from 93% of the patients who were fluconazole-naive (p < 0.05). Nine other species of yeasts were also isolated, most commonly C. glabrata. Five patients previously exposed to fluconazole harbored fluconazole-resistant C. albicans, whereas no resistance was detected among the patients who were fluconazole-naive (p < 0.01). Sixteen of the patients who were fluconazole-exposed carried yeasts other than C. albicans, compared with only five patients in the fluconazole-naive group (p < 0.01). All of the fluconazole-resistant strains were isolated from patients with low CD4 counts (less than 100 cells/ml) and after lengthy fluconazole exposures. Nevertheless, patients in Charlotte, N.C., who had a greater mean fluconazole exposure time (10.25 +/- 1.41 months) than patients in Glasgow, UK, (0.65 +/- 0.18 months; p < 0.005), did not develop significantly more in vitro resistance or species diversity. This study indicates that long-term fluconazole treatment can have significant effects on the yeast flora of the mouth, particularly in a patient with a CD4 count of less than 100 cells/ml.