Gnotobiotic rats were given Streptococcus mutans 6715 whole cells (WC), purified cell walls (CW), or cell wall lysate by gastric intubation (GI), and assessments were made of humoral immune responses in serum and saliva and of caries protection. Levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) and IgG antibodies to S. mutans WC in saliva samples from experimental rats were determined by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Serum antibody levels of the IgM, IgG, and IgA isotypes were also determined. Similar levels of salivary antibodies were induced in rats given S. mutans WC or CW by GI, whereas lower salivary antibody titers were observed in rats given cell wall lysate by the oral route. The level of serum antibodies in the various groups of rats also reflected the oral antigen used. The specificity of salivary IgA and serum IgG antibodies in the various groups of rats was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay antigens. Salivary IgA and serum IgG antibodies in rats given S. mutans WC or CW by GI were primarily directed to lipoteichoic acid and serotype g carbohydrate. The presence of salivary IgA antibodies to S. mutans in rats given either S. mutans WC or CW by GI correlated with a significant reduction in the levels of plaque, numbers of viable S. mutans in plaque, and caries scores when compared with the control animals (infected only). These results demonstrate that particulate antigens of S. mutans induce salivary immune responses when given by GI to gnotobiotic rats and that the presence of these antibodies correlates with caries protection.