A Short Dental History of George Washington
When people think about George Washington, they usually realize he led the Colonial Army was the first president of the United States, and is the face depicted on the one-dollar bill and the quarter. On top of these is the myth that President Washington had wooden teeth. Although he did have plenty of dental issues, wooden teeth weren’t one of them.
By the age of 24, George Washington began having chronic pain in his teeth and gums. During the next few years, he began having his teeth pulled to alleviate the pain. In fact, by his inaugural address in 1789, he was down to one original tooth, which he lost later that year. Throughout his adult life, George Washington wore a variety of dentures and false teeth to compensate, often wired to whatever permanent teeth he had left.
Many of these dentures did not fit well and included springs to help keep them pressed against the jaw and gums. He’d have to keep his jaw clenched to keep his false teeth from springing open. While this constant jaw pressure was uncomfortable and exhausting, it also resulted in the strong, determined look we see in many of his portraits today. If you look closely at some of those portraits, you might notice bulges at his lips due to these dentures.
As a high ranking general and especially as the President of the United States, George Washington had access to the finest dental prosthetics of the time. He needed them for social appearances. Many of his dentures and false teeth included substitutes made of gold, ivory, lead, and old teeth (both his own, and donor teeth). On occasion, animal teeth were added. Nevertheless, there was never any wood in use, so why the claim?
As best as historical authorities can tell, the myth resulted from his dietary habits. When Mr. Washington wore dentures with ivory teeth, they became stained from dark wines and other drinks. Evidently, the stained ivory looked similar to wood. Eventually, rumors spread that he replaced his teeth with wooden ones.
Living Dental History
The last surviving set of dentures worn by George Washington are on display in a collection at Mount Vernon, his former estate. Their website includes further details about what other dental issues George Washington had to endure, and how it affected American history in the dental field and beyond. His dentist, Dr. John Greenwood, also invented the first foot-powered dental drill, which he called the “dental foot engine.” Dr. Greenwood was also one of the first dentists to advocate for regular tooth brushing – a practice that saved countless teeth ever since.
The Placerville Dental Group carries on the dental practice of using the latest innovations and techniques to provide optimal dental care for all our patients. If you don’t have an appointment already, call our office team to find a convenient time. If you prefer, use our online form to schedule a visit.