A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay with oligonucleotide primers homologous to a portion of the urease C gene of Helicobacter pylori was evaluated for specificity with pure DNA and biopsy material. The assay was used to test for the presence of the organism in dental plaque. The species specificity of detection was confirmed by ensuring that the primers did not amplify DNA extracts from H. cinaedi, H. felis, H. fennelliae, H. mustelae and H. nemestrinae. Sixty-two gastric biopsy samples collected from 14 patients (antrum, body and duodenal sites) were cultured and PCR was performed on the samples after culture. Primer sites were conserved in genomically diverse strains. Samples prepared by single-step heat lysis of bacterial cells and biopsy material did not inhibit PCR. The overall specificity was 96% irrespective of genotype. H. pylori was not cultured from dental plaque (15 patients), neither was H. pylori DNA detected by PCR in either urea breath test-positive or -negative individuals. The results showed that primer pair sequences within the urease C gene are conserved in most strains and provide an accurate basis for detecting H. pylori. As the PCR assay was not inhibited and did not yield false positive results with crude extracts from organisms or in the presence of biopsy material, its value as a diagnostic test was confirmed.