The role of bacteria in the caries process: Ecological perspectives

N. Takahashi, B. Nyvad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

741 Citations (Scopus)


Dental biofilms produce acids from carbohydrates that result in caries. According to the extended caries ecological hypothesis, the caries process consists of 3 reversible stages. The microflora on clinically sound enamel surfaces contains mainly non-mutans streptococci and Actinomyces, in which acidification is mild and infrequent. This is compatible with equilibrium of the demineralization/remineralization balance or shifts the mineral balance toward net mineral gain (dynamic stability stage). When sugar is supplied frequently, acidification becomes moderate and frequent. This may enhance the acidogenicity and acidurance of the non-mutans bacteria adaptively. In addition, more aciduric strains, such as 'low-pH' non-mutans streptococci, may increase selectively. These microbial acid-induced adaptation and selection processes may, over time, shift the demineralization/remineralization balance toward net mineral loss, leading to initiation/progression of dental caries (acidogenic stage). Under severe and prolonged acidic conditions, more aciduric bacteria become dominant through acid-induced selection by temporary acid-impairment and acid-inhibition of growth (aciduric stage). At this stage, mutans streptococci and lactobacilli as well as aciduric strains of non-mutans streptococci, Actinomyces, bifidobacteria, and yeasts may become dominant. Many acidogenic and aciduric bacteria are involved in caries. Environmental acidification is the main determinant of the phenotypic and genotypic changes that occur in the microflora during caries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-303
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of dental research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Mar


  • Actinomyces
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Lactobacillus
  • acid-induced adaptation
  • acid-induced selection
  • acidogenicity
  • acidurance
  • caries process
  • caries-associated bacteria
  • extended caries ecological hypothesis
  • mutans streptococci
  • non-mutans streptococci

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dentistry(all)


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