The role of the microbiota in periodontal disease

Periodontol 2000. 2020 Jun;83(1):14-25. doi: 10.1111/prd.12296.


The last decade has witnessed unparalleled advances in our understanding of the complexity of the oral microbiome and the compositional changes that occur in subgingival biofilms in the transition from health to gingivitis and to destructive periodontal disease. The traditional view, which has held sway for the last 2 decades, that disease is characterized by the outgrowth of a consortium, or consortia, of a limited number of potentially pathogenic organisms, has given way to an alternative paradigm. In this new view, the microbiological changes associated with disease represent whole-scale alterations to the overall microbial population structure and to the functional properties of the entire community. Thus, and in common with other microbially mediated diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, the normally balanced, symbiotic, and generally benign commensal microbiome of the tooth-associated biofilm undergoes dysbiosis to a potentially deleterious microbiota. Coincident with progress in defining the microbiology of these diseases, there have been equally important advances in our understanding of the inflammatory systems of the periodontal tissues, their control, and how inflammation may contribute both to the development of dysbiosis and, in a deregulated state, the destructive disease process. One can therefore speculate that the inflammatory response and the periodontal microbiome are in a bidirectional balance in oral health and a bidirectional imbalance in periodontitis. However, despite these clear insights into both sides of the host/microbe balance in periodontal disease, there remain several unresolved issues concerning the role of the microbiota in disease. These include, but are not limited to, the factors which determine progression from gingivitis to periodontitis in a proportion of the population, whether dysbiosis causes disease or results from disease, and the molecular details of the microbial stimulus responsible for driving the destructive inflammatory response. Further progress in resolving these issues may provide significant benefit to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Keywords: destructive periodontal disease; dysbiosis; gingivitis; inflammatory response; periodontal microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dysbiosis
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Periodontal Diseases*
  • Periodontitis*
  • Periodontium