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Archive: 2019 / 09

George Washington and his teeth

George Washington’s Wooden Teeth

It is a popular belief that George Washington wore dentures made of wood. Where and how this myth started is unknown, but what we do know is that it is entirely false. George did in fact wear dentures. Throughout his adult life he had many problems with his teeth; his first tooth was pulled in 1756 when he was only 24. Records indicate that in 1781 he was wearing partial dentures, and by 1789 he had only one tooth left.

His dentures were actually made of various materials. They had a lead base and included cow teeth, human teeth, and teeth made of ivory. It was a common practice for dentists to purchase teeth from the poor and sometimes even slaves. George’s dentist, Dr Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur, frequently had advertisements in newspapers offering “2 guineas” for good front teeth. Plantation ledgers from Mount Vernon state that in 1784 the dentist bought 9 teeth from slaves.

Dentures at the time were extremely painful. George Washington had to clench his jaw to keep his mouth closed because of the strong springs in the dentures. They also caused his lips to bulge out and changed the appearance of his face. This can be seen in various portraits. The only complete set of dentures belonging to him are kept in Mount Vernon. The
New York Academy of Medicine owns part of George’s partial dentures made by Dr John Greenwood, as well as his last tooth. It is also interesting to note that his wife, Martha Washington also wore partial dentures.

Written Credit: CiCi

Illustration: Sulgrave Manor Marketing

George Washington’s Wooden Teeth

It is a popular belief that George Washington wore dentures made of wood. Where and how this myth started is unknown, but what we do know is that it is entirely false. George did in fact wear dentures. Throughout his adult life he had many problems with his teeth; his first tooth was pulled in 1756 when he was only 24. Records indicate that in 1781 he was wearing partial dentures, and by 1789 he had only one tooth left.

His dentures were actually made of various materials. They had a lead base and included cow teeth, human teeth, and teeth made of ivory. It was a common practice for dentists to purchase teeth from the poor and sometimes even slaves. George’s dentist, Dr Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur, frequently had advertisements in newspapers offering “2 guineas” for good front teeth. Plantation ledgers from Mount Vernon state that in 1784 the dentist bought 9 teeth from slaves.

Dentures at the time were extremely painful. George Washington had to clench his jaw to keep his mouth closed because of the strong springs in the dentures. They also caused his lips to bulge out and changed the appearance of his face. This can be seen in various portraits. The only complete set of dentures belonging to him are kept in Mount Vernon. The
New York Academy of Medicine owns part of George’s partial dentures made by Dr John Greenwood, as well as his last tooth. It is also interesting to note that his wife, Martha Washington also wore partial dentures.

Written Credit: CiCi

Illustration: Sulgrave Manor Marketing