Of all the wearers of dentures, George Washington is probably the most famous. Along with the equally false story of the cherry tree (with its ironic assertion, “I cannot tell a lie.”) people everywhere talk about Washington’s wooden teeth.
Fortunately, though, the Mount Vernon historical site has dispelled the myths surrounding George Washington and his dentures, giving us a clearer picture of the man and his dentures.
Washington’s Teeth Were Never Made of Wood
Over a lifetime of poor dental health (see below), George Washington owned many sets of full and partial dentures (his last tooth was pulled in 1796, at the age of 64, just three years before his death), but none of them were made of wood. Instead, they were made of many materials, including bone, hippopotamus ivory, brass screws, lead, gold metal wire, and even human teeth.
Washington’s dentures predated the famous “Waterloo Teeth,” so it’s likely that the teeth used in his dentures came from other sources than soldiers, although it’s possible that those killed during the Revolutionary War may have “donated” their teeth to dentures. He saved some of his own teeth for use in dentures, and he may have paid poor people with good teeth to give them up for him. Some of the teeth may have come from slaves, as there is at least one transaction in his logs recording the purchase of 9 teeth from “Negroes.”
Washington Suffered Dental Trouble His Whole Life
Washington first had his first tooth extracted at the age of 24 (at the cost of only 5 shillings it can be assumed it was elementary for “Doctor Watson”), and for the rest of his life his diaries record references to tooth pain, lost teeth, inflamed gums, and, of course, his poorly fitting dentures.
He employed some of the best dentists on the continent, including a French dentist who fled from occupied New York to join the American cause. (It will be remembered that the French were leaders in dentistry at the time.) He paid constant sums for all types of prophylactics that were available at the time, including toothbrushes, teeth scrapers, denture files, and cleaning solutions, but despite the constant attention and investment, he couldn’t save his teeth.
Washington’s Dentures Gave Him Great Troubles
Also, despite the best in dental care, George Washington’s dentures were problematic, to say the least. If you look at pictures of Washington at different ages, you can see that his face changes shape. This was because of his bulky, poorly-fitting dentures, which is recorded accurately by portraits. He complained about one set of dentures to his dentist, saying they were, “already too wide, and too projecting for the parts they rest upon; which causes both upper, and under lip to bulge out, as if swelled,” and complaining about another set of dentures the next year, which had “the effect of forcing the lip out just under the nose.”
It’s also believed that Washington was made less willing (and less able) to speak by his ill-fitting dentures. This isn’t just a speculation of modern historians, it was shared by his contemporaries, who often commented on his sparse words.
The technology of dentures has advanced a long way since even the President of the United States couldn’t get properly fitted dentures despite employing the best dentists on the continent. Now FOY® Dentures make it possible for everyone to get dentures that fit properly, enable you to speak and eat with ease, and, most importantly, preserve your face shape.
To learn how you can benefit, please contact a local FOY® Dentures dentist today.