The human subgingival environment is a complex environmental niche where microorganisms from the three domains of life meet to form diverse biofilm communities that exist in close proximity to the host. Bacteria constitute the most abundant, diverse and ultimately well-studied component of these communities with about 500 bacterial taxa reported to occur in this niche. Cultivation and molecular approaches are revealing the breadth and depth of subgingival biofilm diversity as part of an effort to understand the subgingival microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that inhabit the gingival crevices. Although these investigations are constructing a pretty detailed taxonomical census of subgingival microbial communities, including inter-subject and temporal variability in community structure, as well as differences according to periodontal health status, we are still at the front steps in terms of understanding community function. Clinical studies that evaluate community structure need to be coupled with biologically relevant models that allow evaluation of the ecological determinants of subgingival biofilm maturation. Functional characteristics of subgingival biofilm communities that still need to be clarified include main metabolic processes that support microbial communities, identification of keystone species, microbial interactions and signaling events that lead to community maturation and the relationship of different communities with the host. This manuscript presents a summary of our current understanding of subgingival microbial diversity and an overview of experimental models used to dissect the functional characteristics of subgingival communities. Future coupling of 'omics'-based approaches with such models will facilitate a better understanding of subgingival ecology opening opportunities for community manipulation.
Copyright © 2012 S. Karger AG, Basel.