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Museum dispels myth about George Washington’s teeth

George Washington’s teeth are on display at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore. (DTI/Photo Fred Michmershuizen)
Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Tue. 15 December 2009


BALTIMORE, MD, USA: Did you know that George Washington’s false teeth were not really made of wood? Those who visit the National Museum of Dentistry, located here, can see first president’s famous choppers on display, and they can find out more about his tooth troubles.

The story about wooden teeth is a myth.

“Many people are surprised to find out that George Washington never had wooden dentures,” said Museum Curator Dr. Scott Swank, in a recent press release. “We think the myth arose since ivory dentures tend to stain like wood after years of eating and drinking.”

The National Museum of Dentistry features a gallery devoted to the first president and his tooth troubles. His dentures — which were actually made of ivory — are on display, as well as forceps made to pull his teeth on the Revolutionary War battlefield and examples of presidential portraits that show how tooth loss affected Washington’s appearance.

According to the museum, Washington lost his first tooth when he was 22 years old. Despite the fact that he brushed with tooth powder daily, he would have only one tooth in his mouth by the time he was inaugurated president in 1789. Washington had many illnesses during his life, including smallpox and malaria. Treatments included remedies like mercurous chloride, which is known to destroy the teeth.

His favorite dentist, John Greenwood, would make several sets of dentures for Washington during his lifetime — and none of them would be made from wood, according to the museum. In fact, they were carved from hippopotamus ivory and elephant ivory. Some of the dentures were set in gold and held in place with springs that held the upper and lower teeth together.

Those who have never visited the National Museum of Dentistry might want to consider visiting during Presidents Day weekend, 13–14 February 2010. Those who wear red, white or blue on these days will receive $1 off on admission.

An Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum is located at 31 S. Greene Street in Baltimore.

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