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Study identifies potential link between oral bacteria and brain abscesses

Study identifies potential link between oral bacteria and brain abscesses

A study led by researchers from the University of Plymouth and University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust in the UK shows that bacteria known to cause oral infections may also be a contributory factor in patients developing potentially life-threatening abscesses on the brain.

The study, published in the Journal of Dentistry, investigated brain abscesses and their association with bacteria that occur in the oral cavity. While this type of abscess is relatively uncommon, it can result in significant mortality and morbidity.

The study examined the records of 87 hospitalised patients with brain abscesses. Through analysing samples of the abscesses and peripheral cultures, they collected microbiological data.

Researchers found that the 52 patients who had no diagnosable cause for their abscess, were three times more likely to have oral bacteria present.

In particular, the team noted the presence of Streptococcus anginosus. This bacteria can lead to “pharyngitis, bacteremia, and infections in internal organs such as the brain, lung, and liver. This bacteria is often found in dental abscesses.” Writing in the study, researchers say the findings suggest that the oral cavity could be considered a source of infection in cases of brain abscess where no clear cause has been identified.

- While many potential causes of brain abscesses are recognised, the origin of infection often remains clinically unidentified. However, it was still surprising to frequently find orally occurring bacteria in brain abscesses of unexplained origin. It highlights the importance of using more sensitive techniques to assess the oral cavity as a potential bacterial source in brain abscess patients. It also highlights the importance of improving dental care and oral hygiene more generally, Dr Holly Roy, the studies lead author tells EurekaAlert!

Ongoing research is taking place within the university’s Oral Microbiome Research Group to examine the link between oral microbes and a variety of cardiovascular and neurological conditions.

The study forms part of ongoing research taking place within the University’s Oral Microbiome Research Group, led by Dr Raul Bescos and Dr Zoe Brookes, to explore the links between the oral microbiome and a range of cardiovascular and neurological conditions.

Other clinical trials are underway investigating the links between gum health and Alzheimer’s disease and identifying patients under high cardiovascular risk in primary care dental clinics, as an altered balance of oral bacteria (microbiome) during gum disease can lead to high blood pressure and strokes.

These clinical studies are being carried out in primary care dental facilities run by Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise, where the focus of the research is very much on improving clinical outcomes for patients.


Holly Roy, Raul Bescos, Ewen McColl, Umar Rehman, Elizabeth Cray, Louise A. Belfield, King-David Nweze, Kevin Tsang, William Singleton, Peter Whitfield, Zoe Brookes, Oral microbes and the formation of cerebral abscesses: A single-centre retrospective study, Journal of Dentistry, Volume 128, 2023, 104366, ISSN 0300712, Journal of Dentistry, DOI: 10.1016/j.jdent.2022.104366