George Washington and His Wooden Teeth

The first and one of the most famous presidents of our nation, George Washington, has had a surprising amount of buzz throughout the years surrounding his teeth. In fact, the commonly accepted myth that his dentures were made of wood is so ingrained in the minds of most Americans that they’re shocked when they find out it simply isn’t true.

Washington suffered from many dental ailments including toothaches and tooth loss caused by decay. Researchers believe that the poor diet and virtually nonexistent oral hygiene that were common during his time, in addition to genetics, all played a role in his oral health problems. By the time he became president in 1789 he had only one tooth remaining.

No one is entirely sure where the myth of wooden teeth originated, but historians believe that the ivory used in some of the dentures made for him gave a wood-like appearance as it aged, becoming stained and grainy. His love of dark wines caused even more staining in the think cracks that naturally exist in ivory that most likely led to this assumption that the dark lines were the grain of wood.

Letters between Washington and one of his most well-known dentists, Dr. John Greenwood, show the constant struggle he faced to find a solution that was both natural looking and pain-free. He often tinkered with his dentures himself in an attempt to help them fit better or cause less pain. The letters that he and Dr. Greenwood exchanged also show that even up to his death, boxes of dentures and materials and complaints of pain went back and forth from New York to Mount Vernon.

Many of the dentures he wore, especially during his political career, were spring-loaded and required him to constantly exert force on his jaw to keep them in place. They made areas of his mouth protrude such as his lower lip which is evident in portraits painted of him at the time. It was noted he was terrified of the possibility of opening his mouth too widely in a moment of laughter or discussion only for them to fly out of his mouth and embarrass him.

His most famous set of dentures is actually still in existence today. It is on display at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. It has a spot missing where his only actual tooth fit, and this is how they were secured to his mouth. Eventually, that tooth was lost as well thanks to the decay that he already struggled with and the stress the dentures put on it.

Thankfully, a lot has changed since the late 1700s, and no one should have to suffer from pain or awkwardness with their teeth or lack thereof. Dentures, bridges, and implants are all options available to patients missing teeth due to decay, gum disease or trauma.

Replacing a few missing teeth, or a mouthful is imperative for many reasons. It reduces the risk of developing jaw problems or losing the shape of your face due to bone loss in the jaw. It can boost our confidence and give you back the smile you loved or create a new smile you always dreamed of having. It can help with speech and chewing, and it can also ease the stress placed on your other teeth when they have to work harder to make up for losses.

Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS, a board-certified diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery says,

“Thanks to advances in modern science and dentistry, today’s dentures are custom made to fit the mouths of the patients and with the advanced materials and technology can be permanently placed in the mouth. They look natural and are so comfortable many people forget they are wearing them.”

Even if you’re missing all of your entire upper or lower jaw of teeth, there are many options available both removable and permanent to improve your appearance and ability to eat, speak and live a healthy day-to-day life.