‘Floss or die’: Alarmist, yes, but also true

Montreal Gazette – ‘Floss or die’: Alarmist, yes, but also true

By Chemistry professor Joe Schwarcz, Freelance February 26, 2011

The headline that appeared roughly 20 years ago in a number of newspapers, including The Gazette, was short and powerful. “Floss or Die!” Here we go again, I remember thinking, more inane fear mongering.

Well, as it turns out, the headline may have been over the top, but we now know that there is a significant connection between poor oral health and heart disease. And it all has to do with bacteria. Our mouth is teeming with them, over 600 varieties. Tiny creatures, over a hundred million of them can be found in every millilitre of saliva.

The Dutch gentleman scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek first glimpsed bacteria way back in the late 1600s. While he did not invent the microscope, his lens grinding skill allowed him to construct an instrument that magnified over 200 times, far greater than any previous microscope. Leeuwenhoek had an innate curiosity that led him to examine almost anything that could be placed under his lens. And so it was that he discovered bacteria, first by examining the plaque between his own teeth.

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