This study evaluated the anti-biofilm activity of sphingosine, phytosphingosine (PHS), and sphinganine for: (i) anti-adherence activity on hydroxyapatite (HA) surfaces; and (ii) bactericidal activity on different Streptococcus mutans phenotypes (i.e. planktonic cells and cells from a disrupted biofilm). For this, HA discs treated with sphingolipids were incubated with S. mutans and the number of adherent cells was evaluated by both culture and confocal microscopy. Sphinganine strongly inhibited bacterial adherence by 1000-fold compared with an untreated surface. Phytosphingosine and sphingosine inhibited bacterial adherence by eight- and five-fold, respectively, compared with an untreated surface. On saliva-coated HA, sphinganine and PHS inhibited bacterial adherence by 10-fold. Bactericidal activity of sphingolipids was evaluated by culture. For biofilms, the strongest bactericidal activity was exhibited by sphingosine compared with PHS and sphinganine. At a concentration of 12.5 μg ml−1, PHS and sphingosine were profoundly effective against planktonic and disrupted biofilms; and sphinganine reduced the number of cells in planktonic form by 100-fold and those derived from a disrupted biofilm by 1000-fold. Atomic force microscopy studies suggested that mechanical stability does not appear to be a factor relevant for anti-fouling activity. The results suggest that sphingolipids may be used to control oral biofilms, especially those loaded with S. mutans.