Did George Washington have wooden teeth?
Myth

George Washington had wooden teeth.

Did George Washington Have Wooden Teeth?

George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth, but he did have dentures (made of materials such as ivory) that may have appeared “wooden” from staining.

This video discusses George Washington’s teeth and even shows off a pair of dentures he actually owned. Interestingly, the dentures are made of cows teeth and human teeth.

The History of George Washington’s Teeth

The myth about George Washington’s wooden teeth has persisted since the first U.S. President’s lifetime. The truth is that George Washington actually had a lot of dental trouble and did have dentures. In fact, according to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association he had only one natural tooth by the time he gave his First Inaugural Address in 1789.[1]

George Washington’s dentures were not made from wood (as it wasn’t commonly used at the time), but rather he had dentures composed of a variety of materials including ivory, gold, lead, cows teeth, and even real human teeth. Washington’s oral hygiene and his eating and drinking habits would leave them stained. This is perhaps what started the wooden teeth rumor.

Letters sent from Washington’s dentist John Greenwood also help to prove that Washington did indeed have dentures that weren’t made from wood. A letter sent to Washington from Greenwood read, “the sett you sent me from Philadelphia … was very black … Port wine being sower takes of[f] all the polish.”[2]



Conclusion

George Washington certainly didn’t have wooden teeth, but he did have dentures made of ivory (among other things) that stained easily. These stained dentures are probably the root of this persistent myth. While some thought the wooden teeth explained his “dour” expression in portraits it’s likely due to the way the metal in his dentures that would have been uncomfortable or the metal springs in his teeth which would have required him to clamp down creating a “dour” look.

Like the cherry tree myth and wooden teeth myth continues to be part of the lore that helps to humanize the important political figure.


References

  1. Wooden Teeth Myth“. Mountvernon.org. Retrieved Sept 29, 2015.
  2. To George Washington from John Greenwood, 28 December 1798“. Founders.archives.gov. Retrieved Nov 24, 2015.


"George Washington Had Wooden Teeth" is tagged with: George Washington, United States of America


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