Photo: GeorgeWashington’s Teeth at his Mount Vernon Estate
Knock on wood. America was lucky to have George Washington as its first Commander-in-Chief, and President. The most famous of the Founding Fathers to answer the Call to Arms, he was the only U.S. President elected unanimously in electoral votes. It also seems near unanimous that George Washington’s teeth were made of wood. They were not.
Let’s quickly take a bite out of history and some myths, shall we?
Born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, he grew to stand 6-feet, two inches tall, and weigh 200 pounds. George was truly a big gun, a strong and imposing leader. Sadly, for him and the nation, George Washington’s teeth were not very strong. He suffered from debilitating dental problems his entire adult life. It might explain why cream of peanut soup, and mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, were among his favorite dishes.
George Washington’s teeth troubles were documented in his diary, and many letters written throughout his life. In 1756, at 24 years old, he paid a Doctor Watson five shillings to have a tooth removed. Washington’s records show numerous other payments for dentists, toothache medication, teeth scrapers, cleaning solutions, and more. His writings regularly made reference to his lost teeth, aching teeth, painful gums, and poorly fitting dentures. (His wife Martha Washington also had dentures).
It is believed rumors spread about George Washington’s teeth being wooden because people noticed his dentures were stained. They possibly appeared to have a wooden complexion.
George Washington’s teeth were actually made of parts from various materials other than wood. They included hippopotamus ivory, bone, brass screws, lead, gold metal wiring, and even human teeth. One of Washington’s entries shows he purchased 9 teeth from “Negroes” for 122 shillings. It is unknown what he did with them. But, the practice of buying teeth from slaves was common at the time for affluent Americans who had dental problems.
President George Washington’s Teeth
Check that. Make it tooth – as in singular. By the time he was inaugurated in 1789 as the first President of the United States, George Washington had only one tooth remaining. In 1796, that last tooth was pulled. In good spirit, George allowed his dentist, Dr. John Greenwood, to keep it as a memento. The dentist wore the tooth in a small glass display hung from his watch chain.
President George Washington’s teeth may have been bothering him so much when he was re-elected, it could be the reason why his second inaugural speech lasted only two minutes. Historians have noted how George was very self-conscious about the appearance of his teeth, and the makeshift dentures greatly diminished his desire for public speaking, and ability to do so successfully.
Notice how you never see this legendary Founding Father smiling. George Washington’s teeth were the reason. The paintings of him later in life show changes in the shape of his mouth and jaw. George Washington was well aware of this as his dental issues grew more severe. In a letter to Dr. Greenwood in 1797, he wrote about his dentures saying they were, “already too wide, and too projecting for the parts they rest upon; which causes both upper, and under lip to bulge out, as if swelled.”
The pain of George Washington’s teeth and the injustice he felt from the Great Britain, gave him more than enough reason to bear Arms against the British Army. You can’t help but wonder what further greatness would have been achieved if it weren’t for the constant troubles with George Washington’s teeth.
We cannot tell a lie. George probably would have loved the new AWC Inc. Founding Father patch.