Presidents’ Day is a great time to think again about…George Washington’s teeth. It’s amazing how much George Washington’s dental troubles impacted his life, and unbelievably the life of the nation. It’s a reminder that dental issues can affect us all, famous and not so famous.
So, here are some fun facts about Washington’s teeth:
· Washington did have terrible trouble with his teeth, which resulted in his need for dentures.
· Washington was embarrassed about his dental troubles and he kept the issue secret. However, his confidential correspondence with a dentist was intercepted by British spies during the Revolutionary War and actually changed the course of history. Washington noted in a letter to his Philadelphia dentist that he wouldn’t make it back to Philadelphia, so he wanted the dentist to send him a dental scraper in New York. The British believed from this “dental intelligence” that Washington was not heading to Yorktown (which he was). So, Washington’s teeth hastened the end of the war and Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.
· By the time of Washington’s inauguration, he only had one natural tooth.
· Washington’s dentures were not made of wood; that is a myth. They were an amalgamation of material from his teeth that were previously pulled, possibly the teeth of African-American slaves (we know he purchased 9 teeth) and other materials that were used at the time like animal bones, and metal objects.
· Just because Washington’s false teeth weren’t made of wood didn’t mean that they were a great match. Washington complained bitterly about his dentures; they were poor fitting and the technology just didn’t seem to exist to help him. Modern dentists believe that the most famous painting of Washington (Gilbert Stuart’s shown above) is evidence of how poor his dentures were. They clearly push out his upper lip, and maybe his lower lip, as well.
· Washington was known to be somewhat reticent socially. Looking back, he may have been embarrassed about his appearance and reluctant to speak in public because of his ill-fitting dentures.
You can check out all of this information and more at the Mt. Vernon website, Washington’s home just outside Washington, D.C. Mt. Vernon is also a fabulous location to tour, a lovely Virginia estate on the shores of the Potomac River with beautiful vistas, gardens, outbuildings and terrific tour guides.