When he became the first president of the United States, George Washington had only one real tooth left! You heard right — just ONE.
Everyone has heard something about this great man and his dental history, but if you heard that Washington had wooden teeth, then you heard wrong. This myth is totally false, and Dr. Kunick, Dr. Markham, Dr. Covelli, Dr. Bath-Juech, and Dr. Masek at Today’s Dentistry are here to tell you the truth.
Dental Care in Colonial Times
It was a combination of bad genes and even worse medical practices that led Washington down the path to becoming toothless.
Washington experienced many health problems throughout his life. And he was often treated with “calomel,” a common medicine at the time that contained mercury and ruined teeth.
Toothpaste at the time was also made from very abrasive material like tree bark and brick dust, which likely continued to break down Washington’s natural teeth.
Many people in Washington’s time had fake teeth, but none were made of wood. And, as gross as it sounds, rich citizens at the time were able to purchase real human teeth to fill in their own smile.
George Washington Had Dentures
Washington’s personal diary records frequent sore teeth, inflamed gums, and even his first tooth extraction for 5 shillings at the young age of 24.
By the time Washington had lost the rest of his teeth, he was rich enough to get a very fancy set of his own dentures. But they were not made of wood at all. Washington’s dentures were made of a combination of human teeth, cow teeth, as well as elephant and hippopotamus ivory. His dentures also included gold, lead, and metal springs. How’s that for a mouthful?
It was important to Washington’s self-esteem that he had the total appearance of a strong, healthy leader. And he believed it was important for the reputation of his new nation, too. Historical letters show Washington begging his dentist to be sure that his dentures wouldn’t be obvious with a closed mouth. Sadly, Washington went to great lengths to keep his mouth closed, so he rarely laughed or smiled.
Not only were his dentures high maintenance (needing regular care from a dentist) but they also caused his mouth a lot of pain. It’s believed that Washington’s dentures negatively affected his leadership because he avoided public speaking.
Washington’s wife, Martha, started off with strong teeth but eventually she needed dentures, too. Inspired by her and her husband’s oral health problems, Martha was always sure to take good care of her children’s oral hygiene.
Take Care, Before You Need Dentures, Too!
Did you know that 20-30% of all adults in the US have gum disease severe enough to threaten tooth loss? If you do need dentures or implants, we can certainly help. But we’d also love to help you keep your teeth in the first place.
Cedarburg and West Bend locals, come see us for all of your dental care needs. Call us today for the best chance of keeping all your teeth to yourself!