We have constructed a panel of mutants of S. mutans V403 which are defective in one or more of the glucosyltransferase genes (gtfB,C or D) or the fructosyltransferase gene (ftf). These strains have been tested for virulence in a gnotobiotic rat caries model with reference to both buccal (smooth surface) and sulcal (pit and fissure) carious lesions. Our data suggest differing roles for degradable and non-degradable polymers at buccal and sulcal sites. Non-degradable polymers (made by products of the gtfB and C genes) contributed significantly to the severity of smooth surface lesions. However, our studies suggested their role in pit and fissure lesions was not as important as the role of degradable polymers. Specifically, a mutant deficient in the major insoluble glucan synthesizing activity (product of the gtfB gene) was 25% more cariogenic on sulcal surfaces than was the wild-type V403 strain. We propose that extracellular glucosyltransferases and fructosyltransferase compete for sucrose and that this competition influences pathogenicity at differing tooth sites. © 1995.