We have studied the possible relationship between indigenous salivary antimicrobial agents, indigenous mutans streptococci and the capability of added mutans streptococci to grow in saliva. Stimulated whole saliva was collected from 19 healthy donors. Saliva samples were sterilized, supplemented with glucose and inoculated with Streptococcus mutans or Streptococcus sobrinus. The mixtures were incubated for 20 h followed by counting of viable cells. Saliva samples were analysed, both before and after sterilization, for indigenous antimicrobial agents and the bacterial flora. The subjects could be divided into two groups: those (n = 9) whose saliva promoted and those (n = 10) whose saliva inhibited the growth of the inoculated streptococci. A statistically significant correlation (+0.82, p < 0.001) was found between the numbers of viable cells of S. mutans and S. sobrinus after incubation in saliva. The sterilization procedure reduced the content of all antimicrobial proteins. Salivary antimicrobial factors, or levels of indigenous mutans streptococci, did not differ between the two groups. We conclude that none of the individual salivary antimicrobial factors alone can explain the large individual differences in growth-promoting or growth-inhibiting patterns of saliva on S. mutans and S. sobrinus. Inter-individually, saliva either supports or inhibits the growth of mutans streptococci, indicating a similar response of these two species in relation to the properties of saliva.