Ever since his term as our first president, rumors about George Washington’s life have become popular lore in American history classes. Some report that Washington chopped down a cherry tree in his youth and could not lie about it, and others claim that Washington wore a powdered wig. One of the best-known rumors about this legendary leader is that he used to wear wooden dentures.
The Truth About Washington’s Dentures
George Washington did wear dentures when he came into office, but they were not made of wood. Tooth decay and gum disease plagued George Washington throughout most of his life. His tooth problems began in his 20s, possibly caused by a combination of bad dental practices, poor dietary nutrition, and genetics. By the time he came into office in 1789, he only had one natural tooth remaining. He wore several different sets of dentures throughout his life, but a dentist named John Greenwood created the ones he wore in the beginning of his presidency.
Greenwood used hippopotamus ivory (some historians believe it was elephant or walrus ivory instead) as the base of the dentures, which rested against the gum line. A hole in the base accommodated for his one remaining tooth. For a natural look, the top teeth were also constructed from ivory. Gold posts anchored 8 human teeth in the lower half of the dentures. Coiled wires held the apparatus together. The ivory stained easily along the gum line and hairline fractures, giving several of the teeth a wooden appearance.
The dentures required constant maintenance. Staining was an on-going problem, and Washington had to scrub his false teeth often with grainy chalk to clean them. The teeth also worked themselves loose over time. Not only were they difficult to maintain, but these dentures were also uncomfortable and made chewing difficult. Washington had to resort to eating only soft foods. They also made public speaking painful and caused Washington’s words to come out slurred. Dentures at the time were notorious for the pain they caused, and it was common practice to prescribe opiates to people with dentures to make them more bearable.
Preserving a National Monument
As the first president to a newly liberated nation, George Washington strove to resemble a monument. This choice was as much for his failing self-esteem as it was to bolster the appearance and credibility of the new nation. With this ideal in mind, he kept his dentures largely out of sight of the people, and put up with the pain and discomfort of wearing them. One of the largest challenges he faced with his false teeth was preserving the structure of his face. A number of correspondences exist between Washington and his dentists complaining that the dentures pushed his lips out, giving them a swollen appearance. Later portraits of him reflect the structural changes evident in his face.
Some historians speculate that his denture troubles affected Washington’s personality and leadership ability. He was known as a stone-faced man who rarely spoke unless it was necessary. His second inaugural speech is reported to be the shortest in history, only 135 words in length. The difficulty that his dentures caused him when speaking may have lead to his stoicism. Many have also reported that Washington had a short temper, which may have been a result of his constant mouth pain.
Restoring Your Teeth and Confidence
Denture technology has come a long way since George Washington’s time. If you are missing teeth, you could benefit from FOY® Dentures, The Denture Fountain of Youth™, crafted for you by Dr. Lowrance. Losing your teeth can make speech and eating difficult, and could negatively impact the way you feel about yourself. Your face will also begin to appear sunken-in because your teeth play a large role in supporting your facial features. These comfortable dentures will restore the looks and functionality of your smile, leaving you feeling confident again. They will also lift and support the muscles of your face, making you look younger and more approachable.
The loss of your natural teeth should never be allowed to negatively impact how you feel about yourself. To learn more about what FOY® Dentures can do for you, please call (361) 851-8274 for an appointment at Corpus Christi Center for Cosmetic Dentistry.