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john65pennington's avatar

Has it been proven or disproven that George Washington had false teeth made of wood?

Asked by john65pennington (29235points) January 14th, 2010

If the presidents false teeth were not carved from wood, then what other substance, back then, would have been suitable for his dentures?

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7 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

The Smithsonian Institution has a set of George Washington’s false teeth. They were made of elephant ivory, as was usual for the times.

john65pennington's avatar

They had to be heavy for his mouth. maybe, this is why he never smiled.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@john65pennington There are also accounts of them being very uncomfortable, in general. And yes, this is the main reason you will never see a portrait of George Washington smiling.

joebananas's avatar

From Wikipedia:

Washington suffered from problems with his teeth throughout his life. He lost his first adult tooth when he was twenty-two and had only one left by the time he became President.[87] John Adams claims he lost them because he used them to crack Brazil nuts but modern historians suggest the mercury oxide which he was given to treat illnesses such as smallpox and malaria probably contributed to the loss.[87] He had several sets of false teeth made, four of them by a dentist named John Greenwood.[87] Contrary to popular belief, none of the sets were made from wood. The set made when he became President was carved from hippopotamus and elephant ivory, held together with gold springs.[87][88] The hippo ivory was used for the plate, into which real human teeth and bits of horses’ and donkeys’ teeth were inserted.[87] Dental problems left Washington in constant pain, for which he took laudanum. This distress may be apparent in many of the portraits painted while he was still in office, including the one still used on the $1 bill.[87]

dpworkin's avatar

Thanks, @joebananas. I have seen the set in the Smithsonian, but didn’t remember the details about the hippo ivory, although I do remember the gold springs.

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t know how the old urban legend began but Georgie certainly never had wooden teeth. How long do you think it would take for wooden false teeth to rot in one’s mouth? Not very practical.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Oh, I’m pretty sure wooden teeth existed at some point, practical or not. But, Washington was a man of means, after all, and so was able to get better ones.

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