Friday, February 03, 2012

Washington's Teeth

You can find the museum of dental history online and they currently have an exhibit on Washington up! You can learn about his teeth there as well as Colonial dentistry:
There are entries in his diary about his teeth. One example is "Monday, 18 January (1790) Still indisposed with an aching tooth, and swelled and inflamed gum".

During his life, Washington had nine different dentists. Even his physician extracted teeth for him. His dentists made him many sets of false teeth. Many of his dentures were uncomfortable. One dentist was able to make teeth for Washington that were comfortable. He became his favorite dentist. His name was John Greenwood.

John Greenwood would make four sets of teeth for George Washington and none of them would be made from wood. They were carved from hippopotamus ivory and elephant ivory. Sometimes the teeth were set in gold. His dentures had gold springs to hold the upper and lower teeth together.

Washington was not able to travel to New York where John Greenwood had his office because of his responsibilities as a general and then as President. Instead, he had to send his teeth through the mail to be repaired or adjusted. Sometimes he fixed his own dentures. He wrote letters to John Greenwood describing his problem and asking for the right tools to fix them. He requested files to adjust his teeth, scrapers to clean them, and pincers to fasten the wires. Once he even asked for material to make an impression of his mouth for new dentures.

By the time Washington was inaugurated as the first President in 1789, he had only one natural tooth left in his mouth. He wore dentures made by John Greenwood during his presidency. He was elected to a second term as President, but delivered a very short two paragraph inaugural address, probably because his mouth was bothering him.

I was reading a biography of Washington at my dental appointment today...this post seemed appropriate...I told the hygienist was I trying to be positive - my teeth are better than Washington's!

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