By using a gnotobiotic rat model system to study the induction of protective immune responses by anti-idiotype (anti-id) vaccines specific for antibodies directed at the cariogenic microorganism Streptococcus mutans, it was shown that administration of such an anti-id vaccine provided partial protection against dental caries after challenge with virulent microorganisms. Protective effects were first demonstrated by direct parenteral administration of the anti-id vaccine into salivary gland regions, as determined by reductions in microbial colonization and caries scores. Subsequently, the anti-id was incorporated into liposomes and administered by gastric intubation. Immunization by this regimen also resulted in a significant reduction in caries as well as S. mutans colonization of the oral cavity, with concomitant increases in salivary immunoglobulin A anti-S. mutans antibodies. These data provide evidence that anti-id vaccines specifically targeted at the secretory immune system can induce protective immune responses to pathogens of mucosal surfaces.