To isolate and characterise Streptococcus mutans from Irish saliva samples and to assess their sensitivity to a food-grade preparation of the lantibiotic, lacticin 3147, produced by Lactococcus lactis DPC3147. Saliva samples collected from children with varying oral health status were screened on Mitis Salivarius agar for the presence of pathogenic streptococci. Following selective plating, 16S rDNA sequencing and Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE), 15 distinct strains of Strep. mutans were identified. These were grouped according to their relative sensitivity to lacticin 3147 which ranged from 0.78 to 6.25%; relative to a sensitive indicator strain, Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis HP. Inhibition of indicator Strep. mutans strains from sensitive, intermediate and tolerant groupings were assessed in microtitre plate assays with increasing concentrations of lacticin 3147. The concentration of lacticin 3147 required to give 50% growth inhibition correlated with their relative sensitivities (as assayed by well diffusion methodology) and ranged from 1280 to 5120 AU ml(-1). Concentrated preparations of lacticin 3147 caused a rapid killing of Strep. mutans strains in broth. Moreover, in human saliva deliberately spiked with Strep. mutans, the pathogen was eliminated (initial inoculum of 10(5)) in the presence of 40,000 AU ml(-1) of lacticin 3147. Furthermore, a food-grade lacticin 3147 spray dried powder ingredient was assessed for the inhibition of Strep. mutans in human saliva, spiked with a strain of intermediate sensitivity, resulting in up to a 4-log reduction in counts after 20 min. A food grade preparation of lacticin 3147 was effective in the inhibition of oral Strep. mutans. The inhibition of oral streptococci by food grade preparations of lacticin 3147 may offer novel opportunities for the development of lacticin 3147 as an anti-cariogenic agent particularly in the area of functional foods for the improvement of oral health.