Once a rumor gets started, it can be mighty difficult to squelch it. In the case of America’s beloved first president, George Washington, rumors of his infamous wooden dentures have evolved into the stuff of legend over the past two centuries. The only problem is, George Washington’s teeth were NOT made of wood. Medical records and Washington’s own journals offer more than enough proof that this particular myth is that and nothing more. However, considering how far dental surgery has come in today’s world, it’s still pretty incredible to imagine what one of the founders of our country had to go through to deal with his troubled teeth back in the 18th century.
According to Washington’s personal writings, he struggled with dental problems, and numerous other medical conditions, throughout the time before and after the American Revolution. By the time he was elected the first U.S. President in 1789, he only had one original tooth remaining, and was wearing a then state-of-the-art set of dentures designed by a noted denture-maker, John Greenwood. The Greenwood dentures were made not from wood, but a combination of hippopotamus ivory and real human teeth, fastened and fitted with gold pivots and spiral springs. Washington ordered new sets of dentures on several occasions over the next decade, before his eventual death in 1799.
Despite brushing every day and using his era’s best equivalent to mouth wash, George Washington was certainly a victim of a dental industry that hadn’t quite experienced its own revolution just yet. As a result, Washington struggled with eating, public speaking, and smiling during his waning years. This may have been the reason why the whole “wooden teeth” thing got started, but unlike that myth about the cherry tree, this is one legend that can easily be proven FALSE.
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