Ecological approaches to oral biofilms: Control without killing

Phillip Marsh*, David A. Head, Deirdre A. Devine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Citations (Scopus)


Humans have co-evolved with micro-organisms and have a symbiotic or mutualistic relationship with their resident microbiome. As at other body surfaces, the mouth has a diverse microbiota that grows on oral surfaces as structurally and functionally organised biofilms. The oral microbiota is natural and provides important benefits to the host, including immunological priming, down-regulation of excessive pro-inflammatory responses, regulation of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems, and colonisation by exogenous microbes. On occasions, this symbiotic relationship breaks down, and previously minor components of the microbiota outcompete beneficial bacteria, thereby increasing the risk of disease. Antimicrobial agents have been formulated into many oral care products to augment mechanical plaque control. A delicate balance is needed, however, to control the oral microbiota at levels compatible with health, without killing beneficial bacteria and losing the key benefits delivered by these resident microbes. These antimicrobial agents may achieve this by virtue of their recommended twice daily topical use, which results in pharmacokinetic profiles indicating that they are retained in the mouth for relatively long periods at sublethal levels. At these concentrations they are still able to inhibit bacterial traits implicated in disease (e.g. sugar transport/acid production; protease activity) and retard growth without eliminating beneficial species. In silico modelling studies have been performed which support the concept that either reducing the frequency of acid challenge and/or the terminal pH, or by merely slowing bacterial growth, results in maintaining a community of beneficial bacteria under conditions that might otherwise lead to disease (control without killing).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-54
Number of pages9
JournalCaries Research
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.


  • Antimicrobial agents
  • Biofilm
  • Modelling
  • Oral microbiome
  • Plaque control


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