George Washington: Teeth and Dentures


teeth
 
By middle age Washington had no teeth left. But he did have several sets of dentures, made from such materials as hippopotamus ivory, seahorse ivory, and lead. Other sets used the teeth of pigs, cows, elks, and humans 1a SEE BELOW. Paul Revere made him a set of false teeth 2a. There is a set of Washington dentures in the University of Maryland Dental Museum in Baltimore 3.

Washington's clumsy, ill-fitting dentures distorted his lips. This contributed to the dour expression Washington has in various portraits 1b. Also, painter Gilbert Stuart disliked Washington and accentuated the distortion in what became the most famous of all Washington portraits 4a. The Peale portrait of 1776 shows a long scar along Washington's left cheek. This resulted from an incision to treat an abscessed tooth 1b.


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Historian Richard Norton Smith has written 5:
According to John Adams, Washington lost his teeth as the result of cracking Brazil nuts between his jaws. By the time he became President, he had but a single tooth left and a set of dentures fashioned from cow's teeth. In hopes of finding something better, Washington contacted a leading dentist in Philadelphia, who produced a state-of-the-art set carved, not from wood, but from hippopotamus tusk. The new dentures were thoughtfully drilled with a hole to fit over his one remaining tooth. Unfortunately, they also rubbed against this natural tooth, causing more or less constant pain for which the President took laudanum.

Laudanum is a pain-killer in the same family as opium. Imagine if, today, the President were a frequent user of opiate medications!

Cited Sources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.
        
    a  pp.5-6  b  p.6

    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.

  2. Cooper, Pauline. The Medical Detectives. New York: David McKay, 1973.
        
    a  p.96
  3. http://www.virginia.edu/gwpapers/faq/gwteeth.html
        

    Comment: Picture of a set of Washington's dentures, complete with springs.

  4. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
        
    a  p.6
  5. Smith, RN. The Surprising George Washington. Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. 1994 (Spring);26 (1).
        

    Comment: Available on the web at: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/spring_1994_george_washington_1.html


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