A Bit of Denture History – Past and Present

A Bit of Denture History – Past and Present

George Washington wore dentures.  Legend says Washington carved his own teeth from wood, but research shows his dentures were “state of the art” for his time.

According to the Associate Press and the National Museum of Dentistry, George Washington’s teeth were a combination of gold, ivory, lead, human and animal teeth.  The dentures were held open with gold springs and held shut with bolts.

One of the biggest problems with wearing dentures is that the mouth must be trained to realize that these new things in the oral cavity aren’t actually food. When a person first starts wearing dentures, the brain is often fooled into thinking that the mouth is full of something edible, and starts sending messages to the salivary glands, telling them to get to work. So, the first obstacle one must overcome to wear dentures is an abundance of spit.

– Did you know that 57% of Americans ages 65 to 74 wear dentures?*

– Did you know that 51% of Americans ages 55 to 64 have either full or partial dentures?*

– Did you know that 29% of Americans ages 45 to 55 wear false teeth?*

– Did you know that 16% of Americans ages 35 to 44 have either full or partial dentures?*

– Did you know that 3% of Americans ages 18 to 34 wear dentures  according to www.orawave.com

According to the Associated Press in an article dated January 2005 and the National Museum of Dentistry,

forensic anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh came to the dental museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, to supervise laser scans on one of the four known sets of Washington’s dentures.  The dentures are made from gold, ivory, lead, human and animal teeth (horse and donkey teeth were common components).

The dentures had springs to help them open and bolts to hold them together.

According to the Associated Press.  Dateline: Baltimore

True Presidential Tooth Tales

George Washington Gallery

I cannot tell a lie. George Washington never had wooden teeth. His famous dentures were actually made of ivory from hippos and elephants.

George Washington lost his first permanent tooth when he was 22 — and had only one natural tooth left when he was inaugurated president in 1789. Tooth troubles and ill-fitting dentures may have prohibited him from giving an inaugural address the second time around.

Why did he lose his teeth? We know that he brushed his teeth with dental powder daily (as long as he had them), but the treatment for diseases during Washington’s time was mercurous chloride, which is harmful to teeth. And Washington had many diseases that were common at the time, including smallpox, malaria, and the flu.

His dentures were made by John Greenwood in New York, and they were uncomfortable. After all, they were made of ivory and held in place with a gold spring mechanism. He complained about the size of his dentures “forcing my lips out.” They made it difficult to eat and speak, and he retired from the social scene as a result.

Many pictures were painted of George Washington during his lifetime. His portraits show how his face changes as he ages and loses his teeth. In 1795, the Rembrandt Peale painted a portrait of Washington that shows his mouth puffy and swollen. Gilbert Stuart painted a famous portrait of Washington, but he had to pack cotton in his mouth to make it look better.

Four of Washington’s dentures exist today, and you can see one of them here at the National Museum of Dentistry.

Also on display is a pair of forceps made to pull one of Washington’s teeth on the Revolutionary War battlefield, examples of portraits that show the effect of his tooth loss, details about the president’s favorite dentist John Greenwood, and examples of Japanese wooden dentures.

Celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States by taking a look back at George Washington’s big day and his legendary “wooden” teeth on Sunday, January 18, 1-4 p.m. Special $1 admission!

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