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George Washington is, of course and rightly so, a name that will forever endure to Americans.


As with most extremely well-known figures, a number of events or facts are attributed to him, even if he may or may not have actually done.

In George Washington’s case, there could arguably be two. The first is the infamous Cherry tree and whether Washington actually did chop it down, and more importantly to what effect.

The other would have to be denture-related. The matter of if George Washington really did have wooden teeth of it that is also a legend shrouded in the mists of history.

Well, there is no question that he, along with many at the time, suffered from dental problems. But, in fact, the requisite dentures at the time were made of ivory, gold, lead, and human teeth. All of which, Washington did, in fact, use.

Wood eas never deployed as a denture option during Washington’s lifetime, nor was it ever used by dentists.

According to mountvernon.org:

Nevertheless, even into the mid-twentieth century scholars published studies of Washington describing his false teeth as being crafted out of wood. Today older adults still remember being taught this tale in school, and the National Museum of Dentistry, the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, and the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia find these mythical dentures a common subject of interest for visitors.

The origin of this myth remains unclear. The standard, and most likely, the explanation given by dental scientists and historians is that the ivory employed in the dentures fabricated for Washington by dentist John Greenwood became stained over time, giving them a grained, wooden appearance that misled later observers. Indeed, in a 1798 letter to Washington, Greenwood emphasized the importance of cleaning these dentures regularly after examining ones Washington had used and sent to him for repair: “the sett you sent me from Philadelphia…was very black…Port wine being sower takes of[f] all the polish.”

It seems the haughty phrase “when the myth becomes legend, print the legend” should be deployed at this point.


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"George Washington and Wooden Teeth: Fact or Fiction?" History on the Net
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July 14, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/george-washington-and-wooden-teeth-fact-or-fiction>
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