George Washington's False Teeth

As expected of any famous historical figure, much folklore surrounds the iconic George Washington. Some of this folklore is entirely fabricated, whereas some of the stories do have some grounding in reality. One such story that has a basis in the facts is the story of how George Washington wore dentures made of wooden teeth. Although George Washington did indeed wear dentures during most of his adult life, not one pair contained wooden teeth. It was not uncommon for a person living during Washington's time to have severe dental health issues. George Washington was no exception. Also, his wife Martha Washington began to suffer from tooth decay and loss later on in her life and needed a set of partial dentures by the time of President Washington's second term in office. George Washington lost many of his teeth beginning in his twenties and continued to have issues with his teeth throughout his adult life, including additional tooth decay and loss and chronic jaw pain and toothaches. In fact, by the time of his first Presidential inauguration, President Washington only had one remaining real tooth. These dental health complications were the result of a combination of the poor colonial diet, disease, limited knowledge about dental hygiene practices. and even genetics. During his life, Washington sought the help of many different dentists and health professionals to remedy his dental problems. Before the beginning of the American War for Independence, a colonial dentist named Dr. John Baker designed a pair of partial dentures made of ivory for Washington to wear along with his remaining real teeth. Later, in the 1780s, Washington began to receive dental care from a prominent French dentist named Dr. Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur. Prior to working for General Washington, Dr. Le Mayeur had been the dentist for Sir Henry Clinton, a prominent British officer living in the British-occupied city of Boston. Apparently, Le Mayeur decided to terminate his professional relationship with Sir Henry Clinton and escape Boston after overhearing anti-French remarks made by the British military officer (at this time, the French army had entered into the Revolutionary War as an ally of the colonies). After the war, George Washington employed Dr. John Greenwood to be his dentist as Washington began his presidential terms. Dr. Greenwood designed another pair of partial dentures for President Washington. This pair of dentures had a groundbreaking design for its time (springs along the back hinges of the pair of dentures allowed for opening and closing of the mouth), and it is now on display today in an American museum. Despite the work that Dr. Greenwood put into designing the dentures, George Washington complained that the dentures changed the appearance of his face (specifically, by "bulg[ing] my lips out") and that they caused him pain. In several famous portraits of President Washington, including the iconic image of him on the United States one dollar bill, these facial distortions can be identified.