The oral streptococci are normally non-pathogenic residents of the human microflora. There is substantial evidence that these bacteria can, however, act as "genetic reservoirs" and transfer genetic information to transient bacteria as they make their way through the mouth, the principal entry point for a wide variety of bacteria. Examples that are of particular concern include the transfer of antibiotic resistance from oral streptococci to Streptococcus pneumoniae. The mechanisms that are used by oral streptococci to exchange genetic information are not well-understood, although several species are known to enter a physiological state of genetic competence. This state permits them to become capable of natural genetic transformation, facilitating the acquisition of foreign DNA from the external environment. The oral streptococci share many similarities with two closely related Gram-positive bacteria, S. pneumoniae and Bacillus subtilis. In these bacteria, the mechanisms of quorum-sensing, the development of competence, and DNA uptake and integration are well-characterized. Using this knowledge and the data available in genome databases allowed us to identify putative genes involved in these processes in the oral organism Streptococcus mutans. Models of competence development and genetic transformation in the oral streptococci and strategies to confirm these models are discussed. Future studies of competence in oral biofilms, the natural environment of oral streptococci, will be discussed.