The strictly anaerobic metabolism of sugar in strains of Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sanguis was studied because deep layers of dental plaque are strictly anaerobic. Galactose-grown cells of these streptococcal strains had higher pyruvate formate-lyase activity than did glucose-grown cells. Among these strains, two strains of S. mutans had a significantly higher pyruvate formate-lyase activity than did the others. This enzyme is extremely sensitive to oxygen, and even in situ the enzyme was inactivated by exposure of the cells to air. Lactate was less than 50% of the total end product of the strictly anaerobic incubation of the galactose-grown cells of S. mutans with excess glucose, and a significant amount of formate, acetate, and ethanol was produced through the catalysis of pyruvate formate-lyase. But the cells exclusively produced lactate when exposed to air for 2 min before the anaerobic incubation. The metabolism of sorbitol by S. mutans was seriously impaired by the exposure of the cells to oxygen, and the metabolic rate was reduced to less than 1/20 of that found under strictly anaerobic conditions because of the inactivation of pyruvate formate-lyase. S. sanguis produced a smaller amount of the volatile products from glucose than did S. mutans because of the low level of pyruvate formate-lyase. However, the pyruvate formate-lyase in situ in S. sanguis was less sensitive to oxygen than was that in S. mutans. Because of this low sensitivity, S. sanguis metabolized glucose more rapidly under aerobic conditions, whereas the rates of the aerobic and anaerobic metabolism of glucose by S. mutans were similar, which suggests that S. mutans rather than S. sanguis can sustain the rapid sugar metabolism in the deep layers of dental plaque.