Specific inhibition by periodate-oxidized dextrans of the synthesis of alpha-glucan by S. mutans glucosyltransferase prompted a search for structurally related inhibitors that might be effective as anticaries agents. Clinical dextran derivatives in which from 5 to 50% of the D-glucose units were oxidized acted as potent and specific enzyme-inhibitors, as did 10%-oxidized derivatives of dextran fractions ranging in mol. wt. from 10(4) to 2 X 10(6). Within these limits, differences in oxidation or molecular weight did not significantly affect the high inhibitory potency of the derivatives. In contrast, periodate oxidation of (1 leads to 6)-alpha, (1 leads to 3)-alpha-, and (1 leads to 4)-alpha-linked oligosaccharides containing less than approximately 15 D-glucose units, and of sucrose and structurally related trisaccharides, yielded derivatives that were poor inhibitors. Enzymic hydrolysis of oxidized dextrans caused a loss of their inhibitory power and indicated that, to act as specific inhibitors, oxidized molecules must contain at least 16 to 20 D-glucosyl residues. The similar, minimum size required in order that unoxidized oligosaccharides may act as efficient acceptors in the glucosyltransferase reaction suggests that the inhibitory potencies of oxidized derivatives may reflect their relative abilities to bind at the acceptor site of the enzyme.