The Odd History of George Washington’s Teeth

SSPL/Getty Images

Videos by Rare

Videos by Rare

Every little kid learns that George Washington had wooden teeth… but that’s not exactly true. In reality, his dentures were made out of just about everything else.

George Washington’s Personal Life

A portrait of Martha Washington and George Washington via Battlefields.org

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, to a wealthy Virginia family. He was the first of six children born to his mother Mary Ball Washington although his father, Augustine Washington, had four children from a previous marriage. One of those half-brothers, Lawrence Washington, would eventually establish the Mount Vernon property which George himself would inherit shortly after his marriage to married Martha Dandridge Custis — future First Lady Martha Washington.

George and Martha wed in 1759. Martha was the 27-year-old widow of a rich plantation owner and George, a 26-year-old bachelor.

And by that point, his teeth were already in trouble.

Beginning in his early twenties, George Washington began suffering from toothaches and decay in his mouth… before long, he was losing his teeth. Roughly one per year!

Of course, this was not so uncommon at the time. Considering the toothbrush was not patented until 1857, teeth cleaning methods were rudimentary. Most colonists relied on rough cloth to scrub their teeth — not great — and compounded with bad genetics, Washington’s smile was screwed. He was often in pain and eventually resorted to custom dentures. 

George Washington’s Dental Hygiene

A full set of George Washington’s dentures at Mount Vernon via mountvernon.org

Despite American legend, though, the dentures were not made of wood.

Before entering the Revolutionary War as a general, Washington fired Dr. John Baker, a dentist, to fashion him some falsies. Baker used ivory which he wired to the future president’s remaining teeth. 

Meanwhile, Washington’s teeth worsened. And though records are sparse on the topic, experts do agree on one thing: by the time Washington was officially inaugurated in 1789, he had just one — one! — real tooth left in his mouth. 

George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait) via the National Portrait Gallery

Around then, Dr. John Greenwood fashioned the Commander in Chief a grander set of dentures, a pair fit for the president. These included hippopotamus ivory, employing gold wire springs, brass screws, and human teeth. Greenwood, who would go on to become something of a father of modern dentistry, also took special care to leave Washington’s own tooth intact. He firmly believed that a dentist should never pull a tooth if there was any way to save it. 

But Washington did not have good luck. And, unsurprisingly, when that tooth did eventually break, Washington gifted it to Greenwood who saved the historic chomper as his own dental trophy. 

Meanwhile, Washington grew older and his oral issues caused him painful swelling which worsened into disfigurement. His lower lip began to pucker out, a condition that’s somewhat visible in the unfinished portrait by artist Gilbert Stuart (see above).

Today, the only full set of Washington’s dentures that exist are at his old home, Mount Vernon. Also there: Greenwood’s special decorative case which still holds the president’s final tooth.

A History Lesson

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

James Corden Fell In Love With His Wife The Moment He Laid Eyes on Her

Steven Tyler Refused to Rank His Band Members, So James Corden Made Him Eat Cow Intestines