Based on a survey of 86 isolates, approximately 5% of all naturally occurring strains of Streptococcus mutans contains a 3.6 X 10(6)-dalton (3.6-megadalton) multicopy plasmid of unknown function. The amount of plasmid deoxyribonucleic acid per chromosome varies from 2 to 6% depending on the host strain. About 13% of the total covalently closed circular deoxyribonucleic acid in each of the four plasmid-containing strains consists of dimeric molecules, with interlocked circular forms predominating. Site-specific restriction endonucleases have been identified that cleave this 3.6-megadalton plasmid at single and at multiple sites. Each of the four plasmids is cleaved once by the HindIII and BamHI restriction enzymes. The HpaI, TaqI, and HhaI enzymes generate two, five, and six components, respectively, and the digestion products of each of the four plasmids are identical. Because the four plasmid-containing S. mutans strains are physiologically unique with respect to one another, we conclude this plasmid to be a disseminated extrachromosomal element in S. mutans.