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George Washington and His False Teeth

George Washington was plagued with "teeth problems" for many years. Even during the Revolutionary War, when he commanded America's troops, he had issues with his teeth.

At his Mount Vernon home, which is now a national museum, curators maintain the last-known set of Washington's teeth to survive. This set of dentures is part of Mount Vernon's collections.

On Christmas Day, in 1782, Washington sent a letter to his cousin about his teeth. Mount Vernon's curators tell us about that letter (and Washington's directive regarding some of his previously pulled teeth):

Aware of his failing dental health, George Washington retained several of his pulled teeth within a locked desk drawer at Mount Vernon. In a Christmas Day 1782 letter, Washington wrote to Lund Washington, his distant cousin and the temporary manager of Mount Vernon, requesting that the teeth be wrapped up and sent to him in Newburgh, New York.

Washington hoped that these original teeth could be used within new dentures that were being fitted for his use.

These were the words in Washington’s letter to Lund:

In a drawer in the Locker of the Desk which stands in my study you will find two small (fore) teeth; which I beg of you to wrap up carefully, and send inclosed [sic] in your next letter to me. I am positive I left them there, or in the secret drawer in the locker of the same desk.

By the time he became President, in 1789, Washington had only one of his own teeth left. It was pulled in 1796. Mount Vernon’s curators tell us more:

Despite all his attempts to save his remaining teeth, Washington was down to just one tooth at the time of his inauguration as the first President of the United States. This final survivor was finally pulled by Dr. John Greenwood in 1796 and Washington allowed his dentist to retain this famous tooth as a memento.

Greenwood eventually had the tooth inserted into a small glass display that he hung from his watch chain.

As Washington’s trouble with his teeth continued, people began to notice a change in his face. Those dentures just didn’t fit very well! Mount Vernon’s curators describe the problems:

As Washington’s dental troubles became ever more severe, many artists and close observers began to notice significant changes in the shape of Washington’s face. Paintings of Washington from later in his life all seem to show changes in the shape of his jaw and mouth.

Washington was very self-aware of the impact that ill-fitting dentures had on his appearance. In a 1797 letter to Dr. John Greenwood, Washington complained how his ill fitting dentures were “already too wide, and too projecting for the parts they rest upon; which causes both upper, and under lip to bulge out, as if swelled.”

In a separate letter the following year, Washington noted that another set of dentures had “the effect of forcing the lip out just under the nose.”

Some of the President’s portraits reflect the impact of these continuing issues on the President’s face.

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5123stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 16, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Jun 12, 2016


Media Credits

Image of the last-surviving set of George Washington's teeth online via Mount Vernon website.

 

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"George Washington and His False Teeth" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 16, 2016. Oct 17, 2017.
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