Numerous biological and cultural factors influence the microbial communities (microbiota) that inhabit the human mouth, including diet, environment, hygiene, physiology, health status, genetics, and lifestyle. As oral microbiota can underpin oral and systemic diseases, tracing the evolutionary history of oral microbiota and the factors that shape its origins will unlock information to mitigate disease today. Despite this, the origins of many oral microbes remain unknown, and the key factors in the past that shaped our oral microbiota are only now emerging. High throughput DNA sequencing of oral microbiota using ancient DNA and comparative anthropological methodologies has been employed to investigate oral microbiota origins, revealing a complex, rich history. Here, I review the current literature on the factors that shaped and guided oral microbiota evolution, both in Europe and globally. In Europe, oral microbiota evolution was shaped by interactions with Neandertals, the adaptation of farming, widespread integration of industrialization, and postindustrial lifestyles that emerged after World War II. Globally, evidence for a multitude of different oral microbiota histories is emerging, likely supporting dissimilarities in modern oral health across discrete human populations. I highlight how these evolutionary changes are linked to the development of modern oral diseases and discuss the remaining factors that need to be addressed to improve this embryonic field of research. I argue that understanding the evolutionary history of our oral microbiota is necessary to identify new treatment and prevention options to improve oral and systemic health in the future.
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