The human mouth harbours one of the most diverse microbiomes in the human body, including viruses, fungi, protozoa, archaea and bacteria. The bacteria are responsible for the two commonest bacterial diseases of man: dental caries (tooth decay) and the periodontal (gum) diseases. Archaea are restricted to a small number of species of methanogens while around 1000 bacterial species have been found, with representatives from the phyla Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Spirochaetes, Synergistetes and Tenericutes and the uncultured divisions GN02, SR1 and TM7. Around half of oral bacteria are as yet uncultured and culture-independent methods have been successfully used to comprehensively describe the oral bacterial community. The human oral microbiome database (HOMD, www.homd.org) provides a comprehensive resource consisting of descriptions of oral bacterial taxa, a 16S rRNA identification tool and a repository of oral bacterial genome sequences. Individuals' oral microbiomes are highly specific at the species level, although overall the human oral microbiome shows few geographical differences. Although caries and periodontitis are clearly bacterial diseases, they are not infectious diseases in the classical sense because they result from a complex interaction between the commensal microbiota, host susceptibility and environmental factors such as diet and smoking. Periodontitis, in particular, appears to result from an inappropriate inflammatory reaction to the normal microbiota, exacerbated by the presence of some disease-associated bacterial species. In functional terms, there appears to considerable redundancy among the oral microbiota and a focus on functional rather than phylogenetic diversity may be required in order to fully understand host-microbiome interactions.
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