During the last century, dental research has focused on unraveling the mechanisms behind various oral pathologies, while oral health was typically described as the mere absence of oral diseases. The term ‘oral microbial homeostasis' is used to describe the capacity of the oral ecosystem to maintain microbial community stability in health. However, the oral ecosystem itself is not stable: throughout life an individual undergoes multiple physiological changes while progressing through infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Recent discussions on the definition of general health have led to the proposal that health is the ability of the individual to adapt to physiological changes, a condition known as allostasis. In this paper the allostasis principle is applied to the oral ecosystem. The multidimensionality of the host factors contributing to allostasis in the oral cavity is illustrated with an example on changes occurring in puberty. The complex phenomenon of oral health and the processes that prevent the ecosystem from collapsing during allostatic changes in the entire body are far from being understood. As yet individual components (e.g. hard tissues, microbiome, saliva, host response) have been investigated, while only by consolidating these and assessing their multidimensional interactions should we be able to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem, which in turn could serve to develop rational schemes to maintain health. Adapting such a ‘system approach' comes with major practical challenges for the entire research field and will require vast resources and large-scale multidisciplinary collaborations.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel