Did our first president really have wooden teeth?

Did our first president really have wooden teeth?

You may not have a perfect set of pearly whites, but chances are you don’t suffer from as many dental woes as our first President, George Washington. While he never actually had “wooden teeth,” his oral health had a significant impact on his life, political accomplishments and personal image. Our office wanted to take a moment to separate the fact from fiction, and highlight the political importance of President Washington and his dental needs!

In Washington’s time, humanity knew much less about tooth decay, gum disease and how to properly treat and prevent them. As such, many people found themselves with cavities and missing teeth. President Washington was no exception, as historical documents indicate he only had one in-tact natural tooth when he took office. He went through a number of different sets of dentures throughout his life, composed of everything from ivory to bone and even his own previously extracted teeth. It is thought that some of these dentures became quite stained with use, creating an almost “wooden” appearance.

President Washington was very conscientious of his false teeth. The poor fit of his dentures are reflected in some of his later portraits; his face has a collapsed and widened look that is associated with toothlessness and old age. Some scholars even estimate that his poorly fitting (and probably uncomfortable) dentures may have contributed to the infrequency of his public speeches and appearances later in life.

Washington’s story teaches us great lessons on the impact of oral health. Even a man as powerful and historically important as President George Washington was vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease. Fortunately, today’s dental health care system is better equipped to treat and prevent these conditions before they become a rampant problem. We can only look towards President Washington as a man who best utilized the treatment and technologies available to him.