The effects of different growth conditions on the susceptibility of five taxa to alkaline stress were investigated. Enterococcus faecalis ATCC 29212, Streptococcus sobrinus OMZ 176, Candida albicans ATCC 90028, Actinomyces naeslundii ATCC 12104, and Fusobacterium nucleatum ATCC 10953 were grown as planktonic cells, allowed to adhere to dentin for 24 hours, grown as monospecies or multispecies biofilms on dentin under anaerobic conditions with a serum-enriched nutrient supply at 37 degrees C for 5 days. In addition, suspended biofilm microorganisms and 5-day old planktonic multispecies cultures were used. Microbial recovery upon direct exposure to saturated calcium hydroxide solution (pH 12.5) for 10 and 100 minutes was compared with control exposure to physiologic saline. Planktonic microorganisms were most susceptible; only E. faecalis and C. albicans survived in saturated solution for 10 minutes, the latter also for 100 minutes. Dentin adhesion was the major factor in improving the resistance of E. faecalis and A. naeslundii to calcium hydroxide, whereas the multispecies context in a biofilm was the major factor in promoting resistance of S. sobrinus to the disinfectant. In contrast, the C. albicans response to calcium hydroxide was not influenced by the growth condition. Adherence to dentin and interspecies interactions in a biofilm appear to differentially affect the sensitivity of microbial species to calcium hydroxide.