This study compared the bacterial community profiles of the microbiota associated with acute apical abscesses from Brazilian and USA patients using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). DNA was extracted from purulent exudate aspirates and part of the 16S rRNA gene was amplified by polymerase chain reaction and separated by DGGE. The resulting banding patterns, which were representative of the bacterial community structures in samples from the two locations, were then compared. Distinct DGGE banding patterns were observed from different samples. Ninety-nine bands with distinct positions in the gels were detected, of which 27 were found only in the USA samples and 13 were exclusive to Brazilian samples. Four of the 59 shared bands showed very discrepant findings with regard to prevalence in the two locations. Cluster analysis of DGGE banding profiles showed a great variability in the bacterial populations associated with teeth with abscesses regardless of the geographical location. Two big clusters, one for each location, were observed. Other clusters contained a mixture of samples from the two locations. The results of the present study demonstrated a great variability in the bacterial community profiles among samples. This indicates that the bacterial communities of abscesses are unique for each individual in terms of diversity. The composition of the microbiota in some samples showed a geography-related pattern. Furthermore, several bands were exclusive for each location and others were shared by the two locations and showed great differences in prevalence. © 2007 The Authors.