The precise mode of transmission and the natural reservoir for Helicobacter pylori are unknown. PCR assays have proved to be highly sensitive and specific and are regarded as the method of choice for detecting H. pylori DNA in the oral cavity. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence and distribution of H. pylori in the oral cavity. Forty-two patients undergoing gastroscopy were investigated for the presence of H. pylori in dental plaque and saliva by nested PCR, and in the stomach by the 13C-urea breath test. Samples tested comprised dental plaque from molars, premolars and incisors and saliva. Two sets of primers homologous to the 860-bp fragment of H. pylori DNA, which have been shown previously to be highly sensitive and specific, were used for nested PCR. Eleven patients (26.2%) were infected with H. pylori in the stomach. H. pylori DNA was identified in dental plaque samples from 41 patients (97%) and in 23 saliva samples (55%). The prevalence in dental plaque from molars, premolars and incisors was 82%, 64% and 59%, with an odds ratio of 3.18, 1.24 and 1 (reference), respectively. In conclusion, H. pylori was present in the oral cavity of 97% of tested patients, with a characteristic distribution that was independent of the infection status of the stomach. Thus H. pylori may belong to the normal oral microflora.