Did George Washington Really Have Wooden Teeth?

Sep 15, 2018

Did George Washington Really Have Wooden Teeth?

There have been many things written about George Washington, but one famous story is that he had wooden dentures. This story has circulated for quite some time on the Internet. In fact, there are even some history textbooks which repeat this story. But the question is: is there any truth to it? Did George Washington really have wooden teeth?

Let’s first establish the facts. Despite what you might have read online or in some history books, there is no truth that George Washington had wooden teeth. Yes, he did have dental issues, but he never had wooden teeth.

The myth about his wooden teeth started when George Washington began to have dental problems. At that time, oral care was not a well-developed science, and consequently, many people developed cavities and tooth loss early in life. Also, the prevalence of cavities and tooth loss also increased those days in New America because sugar was being imported in large quantities.

George Washington also developed dental problems and lost a number of his teeth at a relatively young age. But he did not have wooden teeth. Instead, he had dentures made out of ivory, from the tusks of a hippo.

Washington’s Ivory Dentures

This wasn’t anything extraordinary. During that period in the US, dentures were often made from Ivory obtained from the tusks of elephants, walrus, and hippos. The ivory dentures had the same white features of normal teeth. However, while they offered good facial aesthetics, the material was not durable. Most Ivory dentures did not last long.

George Washington used to send his ivory dentures for cleaning, and at one time, the dentist remarked that the dentures had turned black, giving a wooded appearance. This is what initiated this myth that he had wooden dentures. The dentist did not check how the dentures were made and erroneously noted that the President had wooden dentures.  This myth persisted for many decades, and even now, there are people who believe that George Washington had wooden teeth.

In reality, George Washington had teeth made from a variety of materials, none of which were wood. He had dentures made of gold, ivory, and lead. It was never wood because, during that era, wood dentures were not commonly employed by oral surgeons in the USA.

Because ivory was not durable, researchers started to look at other materials for making dentures, and soon porcelain and gold dentures were available by the end of the 19th century. The problem with porcelain was that the teeth looked unnaturally white and the material was also prone to cracks and chips. To prevent the damage, gold was then used to cover the surface of porcelain dentures, and this led to the evolution of modern-day dentures. Because porcelain was expensive in the 19th century, only the rich were able to afford these dentures. Affordable dentures in the USA were not developed until the 1950s when better technology was available.

Origin of Dentures

The first dentures were developed by the Egyptians in 1500 BC. There were initially made of animal teeth and held together with gold wire. Later, the ancient Mayans replaced missing teeth with bits of bone, carved stone, and seashells. These dentures did work for a short time, but since the lifespan of humans was very short in that era, it did not matter much.

Wooden dentures were widely used by the Japanese about four centuries ago and did remain in style until the early 19th century. However, wood was not durable and was rapidly susceptible to wear and tear. Wooden dentures never became a part of American dentistry. When George Washington became President, the Japanese had not even arrived at the US.

Dr. Carl Burton – Your Greenville Dentist

So this is the real story behind George Washington’s so-called wooden teeth. Dentistry has come a long way since then, and today, patients have different options to treat their cavities and to replace missing teeth. If you are looking for a Greenville dentist and are curious about the type of dentures that are available, please call the offices of Dr. Carl Burton.

We offer a wide range of dental services and have established an excellent reputation in dentistry in Greenville, SC.  All our dentists at Dr. Carl Burton, your Greenville dentist, are highly qualified and well-trained. We offer a wide variety of services including general dental care, cosmetic dentistry, and other services. Call us today for more information.

From the Blog

5 New Year’s Resolutions for a Healthy Mouth

Many people want to have a beautiful smile and healthy teeth but often think that the only answer is cosmetic surgery. This is a false notion. Anyone can have a healthy mouth if they follow the right oral hygiene strategies. Start off your year by setting good dental resolutions. Dr. Carl Burton, Greenville Cosmetic Dentist…

Cleaning and Maintaining Your New Denture Implants

Many people believe that once they have denture implants, they are set for life and do not need to do much. Unfortunately, denture implants require life-long care, and if you do not look after them, you will need some type of denture replacement in the future, which could result in significant expense and aggravation. Here…

Did George Washington Really Have Wooden Teeth?

There have been many things written about George Washington, but one famous story is that he had wooden dentures. This story has circulated for quite some time on the Internet. In fact, there are even some history textbooks which repeat this story. But the question is: is there any truth to it? Did George Washington…