Washington – Did He or Didn’t He?

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Who is George Washington? Ask any American and they will answer – the very first President of the United States. And I bet, if you were to ask them what else they know about our first President, more than a few would state that he had wooden teeth. But did he?

Truth vs. Folklore

Dentistry during colonial times was not the science it is today. Due to the combination of available care and bad genes, Washington suffered from poor dental health his whole adult life. By the time George Washington became president in 1789, he had only one tooth left – a premolar. As is noted in diaries and other communications throughout his life, he wrote of having teeth removed, aching and inflamed teeth and uncomfortable dentures.

Would You or Wouldn’t You?

Dentures have come a long way since Washington’s time. But, thankfully for Washington, even in the eighteenth century, dentures were not made of wood. This myth most likely derives from the fact that early dentures were made from actual human teeth as well as from the bone and ivory of animals like the hippopotamus, walrus and elephant. As these materials got hairline fractures over time, they would become stained and appear to look like grains in wood. Hence, the myth of wooden teeth. To construct early dentures, dentists also used gold metal wire and springs, copper and silver alloy, brass screws and even lead!

Would You or Wouldn’t You?

These most often ill-fitting dentures changed the facial appearance of Washington as noted by artists who captured Washington on canvas over the years. It was something he was self-aware of and, it has been suggested, diminishing his desire and ability to speak.

So, although Washington’s dentures weren’t truly made of wood, they are certainly a part of the evolution of dentistry best left to history!

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