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Oral bacteria may give rise to brain abscesses, study shows

In a recent study, researchers found oral bacteria present in previously diagnosed brain abscesses that had no explainable origin. Given the findings, they believe that oral bacteria may be an under-recognised cause of abscesses in the brain. (Image: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock)

PLYMOUTH, UK: In a recent study, researchers investigated the role of oral bacteria in the development of brain abscesses. They found that the samples of brain abscesses where no primary source of infection was identified contained a high number of oral bacteria and reasoned that bacteria that cause oral infections could also contribute to patients developing brain abscesses. In light of the findings, the researchers concluded that maintaining good oral health may help prevent the development of brain abscesses in some individuals.

In their study, the researchers examined the records of 87 patients having brain abscesses admitted to a single UK neurosurgical unit over 16 years. They used microbiological data obtained from abscess sampling and peripheral cultures to categorise the species of bacteria where no primary source of infection was identified (in 52 of the patients) or where an infective source for their brain abscesses was identified (in 35 of the patients). The microbiological data were then screened to identify common oral bacteria in each group.

The findings showed that the 52 patients in the first group were about three times as likely to have oral bacteria present in their samples. Additionally, they had a significantly higher number of Streptococcus anginosus, one of the most common bacterial species found in brain abscesses.

In light of the findings, the authors argued that the oral cavity might be a source of infection in patients with brain abscesses of unknown origin and argued that it should be of utmost importance to carefully review the oral health of brain abscess patients.

Lead author Dr Holly Roy, a clinical lecturer in neurosurgery at the University of Plymouth, commented in a press release: “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.”

In order to help establish the causal link between oral health and brain abscesses and to develop prevention strategies, the researchers believe that future studies should include oral screening and microbiome analysis.

The study is part of ongoing research by the Oral Microbiome Research Group at the university, which aims to explore the link between the oral microbiome and various cardiovascular and neurological conditions.

The study, titled “Oral microbes and the formation of cerebral abscesses: A single-centre retrospective study”, was published online on 17 November 2022 in the Journal of Dentistry, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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