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Did George Washington Actually Have Wooden Teeth?

There are a number of interesting stories about the first President of the United States. We’ve heard that he skipped a silver dollar all the way across the Potomac, or that he chopped down a cherry tree, as a child, but then confessed to his father, saying, “I cannot tell a lie.”

Many of these stories are tall tales. The Potomac is nearly a mile wide, where it passes by Mount Vernon. Despite his notable strength and constitution, Washington couldn’t skip a coin quite that far, even if there had been silver dollars prior to 1794.

However, some of the stories about him, while not wholly true, are at least based on real events.

Washington’s Lifelong Dental Problems

Washington is well known for his attention to good dental care. Even while at war in the early 1750s, he made it a special priority to have an ample supply of toothbrushes, powders, and tinctures.

Unfortunately, he suffered from severe dental disease, along with poor wartime diet and unlucky genetics. Together these factors caused him to lose his first tooth at only age twenty-four. By the time he was inaugurated as president, he only had one natural tooth left. That tooth had to be pulled early in his presidency by Dr. John Greenwood.

Fun Fact: Dr. Greenwood kept Washington’s last tooth, and placed it in a locket.

Due to his chronic tooth troubles, Washington suffered from pain and inconvenience over his teeth for most of his life.

Washington’s Real Dentures

By the time he reached his 40s, Washington had lost enough teeth that he needed to start wearing dentures. However, they were not made of wood, as the stories tell.

Washington had several sets of dentures throughout his life, which were made from a wide variety of materials. The base of one was made of lead. A later set is carved from ivory, believed to be from a hippopotamus.

The actual teeth in each of these sets come from multiple sources. A few teeth in one set were Washington’s own pulled teeth. Others were from horses, cows, and other humans, including slaves.

All of this was held together by a spring that pushed the teeth open when Washington opened his mouth. Unfortunately, he had to clench his jaw constantly, in order to keep his mouth closed. Though not as uncomfortable as his infected natural teeth, he still experienced pain from these dentures, and took regular medication for it.

Modern Dentures

We have thankfully come a very long way since the dentistry of the 1700s. 

Today we can custom-fit your dentures to not only sit properly on your gums, but to do so comfortably. Modern adhesives allow you to move your mouth freely as you wear your dentures. We can even create dentures that are permanently attached to dental implants in your jaw for total sturdiness and comfort.

Even more than that, the teeth that we craft in our lab are beautiful, natural-looking teeth that resist staining, match your smile perfectly, and definitely do not look like wood!

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