Based on present knowledge of the purely chemical controls on the kinetics of massive dolomite formation, the abundance and distribution of dolomite throughout the Phanerozoic remains an enigma, sometimes referred to as the ‘dolomite problem'. Comparing dolomite abundance to secular variation in seawater chemistry indicates that some changes in seawater chemistry are more likely to have resulted from extensive dolomitization rather than to have caused it. The recently formulated microbial dolomite model provides the opportunity to view the geological history of dolomite formation from a new perspective. A biogeochemical approach to the ‘dolomite problem' reveals a plausible connection between Phanerozoic geochemical cycles and dolomite formation. In particular, periods of more extensive dolomitization broadly correlate with diverse indicators of decreased oxygen levels in the atmosphere and oceans. Lowered oxygen levels would have fostered a more active community of anaerobic microbes, including sulphate-reducing bacteria, which in turn could have led to more extensive dolomitization of marine carbonates.