Staphylococcus aureus in the oral cavity: a three-year retrospective analysis of clinical laboratory data

Br Dent J. 2003 Dec 20;195(12):701-3; discussion 694. doi: 10.1038/sj.bdj.4810832.


Objective: A retrospective analysis of laboratory data to investigate the isolation of Staphylococcus aureus from the oral cavity and facial area in specimens submitted to a regional diagnostic oral microbiology laboratory.

Methods: A hand search of laboratory records for a three-year period (1998-2000) was performed for specimens submitted to the regional diagnostic oral microbiology laboratory based at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School. Data were collected from forms where S. aureus was isolated. These data included demographics, referral source, specimen type, methicillin susceptibility and clinical details.

Results: For the period 1998-2000, there were 5,005 specimens submitted to the laboratory. S. aureus was isolated from 1,017 specimens, of which 967 (95%) were sensitive to methicillin (MSSA) and 50 (5%) were resistant to methicillin (MRSA). The 1,017 specimens were provided from 615 patients. MRSA was isolated from 37 (6%) of patients. There was an increasing incidence of S. aureus with age, particularly in the >70 years age group. The most common specimen from which MSSA was isolated was an oral rinse (38%) whilst for MRSA isolates this was a tongue swab (28%). The clinical condition most commonly reported for MSSA isolates was angular cheilitis (22%). Erythema, swelling, pain or burning of the oral mucosa was the clinical condition most commonly reported for MRSA isolates (16%). Patients from whom the MSSA isolates were recovered were most commonly (55%) seen in the oral medicine clinic at the dental hospital, whilst patients with MRSA were more commonly seen in primary care settings such as nursing homes, hospices and general dental practice (51%).

Conclusion: In line with more recent surveys, this retrospective study suggests that S. aureus may be a more frequent isolate from the oral cavity than hitherto suspected. A small proportion of the S. aureus isolates were MRSA. There were insufficient data available to determine whether the S. aureus isolates were colonising or infecting the oral cavity. However, the role of S. aureus in several diseases of the oral mucosa merits further investigation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carrier State
  • Cheilitis / microbiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Methicillin Resistance
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth / microbiology*
  • Mouth Diseases / microbiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Staphylococcal Infections / epidemiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity*