Microbial biogeography and ecology of the mouth and implications for periodontal diseases

Diana M. Proctor, Katie M. Shelef, Antonio Gonzalez, Clara L. Davis, Les Dethlefsen, Adam R. Burns, Peter M. Loomer, Gary C. Armitage, Mark I. Ryder, Meredith E. Millman, Rob Knight, Susan P. Holmes, David A. Relman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In humans, the composition of microbial communities differs among body sites and between habitats within a single site. Patterns of variation in the distribution of organisms across time and space are referred to as “biogeography.” The human oral cavity is a critical observatory for exploring microbial biogeography because it is spatially structured, easily accessible, and its microbiota has been linked to the promotion of both health and disease. The biogeographic features of microbial communities residing in spatially distinct, but ecologically similar, environments on the human body, including the subgingival crevice, have not yet been adequately explored. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, we seek to provide the dental community with a primer on biogeographic theory, highlighting its relevance to the study of the human oral cavity. We summarize what is known about the biogeographic variation of dental caries and periodontitis and postulate that disease occurrence reflects spatial patterning in the composition and structure of oral microbial communities. Second, we present a number of methods that investigators can use to test specific hypotheses using biogeographic theory. To anchor our discussion, we apply each method to a case study and examine the spatial variation of the human subgingival microbiota in 2 individuals. Our case study suggests that the composition of subgingival communities may conform to an anterior-to-posterior gradient within the oral cavity. The gradient appears to be structured by both deterministic and nondeterministic processes, although additional work is needed to confirm these findings. A better understanding of biogeographic patterns and processes will lead to improved efficacy of dental interventions targeting the oral microbiota.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-41
Number of pages16
JournalPeriodontology 2000
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • biogeography
  • oral microbiome
  • oral microbiota
  • spatial pattern
  • subgingival
  • supragingival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Periodontics


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial biogeography and ecology of the mouth and implications for periodontal diseases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this