Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

Dentally Unready: Gen. George Washington's Lifetime of Dental Misery

Image of Visitors to the George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and museum in Mount Vernon, Virginia, can see George Washington’s only remaining full denture among the collection. They include his own pulled and saved teeth, other human teeth, teeth from cows and horses that were filed to fit, and teeth carved from elephant ivory. Visitors to the George Washington Mount Vernon estate and museum in Mount Vernon, Virginia, can see George Washington’s only remaining full denture among the collection. They include his own pulled and saved teeth, other human teeth, teeth from cows and horses that were filed to fit, and teeth carved from elephant ivory. (Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)

If you suffer from dental woes, you're not alone.

It turns out dental and oral health troubles afflicted President George Washington throughout his life, starting as young as age 24.

By age 57, Washington was wearing a full set of dentures even though he was "fastidious" about brushing his teeth with tooth powder, scraping his tongue of bacteria, and using mouthwash, according to information from George Washington's Mount Vernon estate and museum in Virginia. On display at the museum is Washington's dental hygiene travel kit.

Letters and diary entries throughout his lifetime often reference "aching teeth, lost teeth, inflamed gums, ill-fitting dentures, and a host of other dental miseries," according to the museum's information.

His communications also mention "payments to dentists and purchases of toothbrushes, teeth scrapers, denture files, toothache medication, and cleaning solutions."

Mythbusting

Legend has it that Washington had wooden teeth, but the museum's historians state that's not true. The appearance of his dentures may have looked wooden, "particularly after they had been stained," but wood was not used in constructing any of his dental fittings.

In his lifetime, Washington had many full and partial dentures made of a variety of materials, all of which required maintenance and attention.

The dentures included some of his own pulled teeth as well as teeth from other humans and "probably cow and horse teeth" that were filed down to fit his size, according to Susan Schoelwer, the museum's senior curator.

George Washington suffered oral troubles throughout his life and was “fastidious” about his oral care, carrying a dental hygiene travel set with him on his travels. The set can be seen at the George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and museum in Mount Vernon, Virginia. George Washington suffered oral troubles throughout his life and was “fastidious” about his oral care, carrying a dental hygiene travel set with him on his travels. The set can be seen at the George Washington Mount Vernon estate and museum in Mount Vernon, Virginia. (Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)

Washington also had teeth made of ivory and metal alloys to include lead-tin, copper, and silver.

Concerned with his poor dental health and hoping that his original teeth would be fit into his new dentures, the Army general kept many of his pulled teeth in a locked desk drawer at Mount Vernon, according to museum records.

In a 1782 letter to Lund Washington, his distant cousin and temporary manager of the Mount Vernon estate, he requested the teeth be wrapped up and sent to him in Newburgh, New York.

"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," says the letter. "I am positive I left them there, or in the secret drawer in the locker of the same desk," he added.

Washington's dentures were made by setting the teeth into artificial lead frames and held in place on the top and lower jaws of Washington's mouth by two metal wires that were curved to the shape of his jaw. While the lower denture was sized to fit Washington's mouth, the upper denture was flat on top.

"There's nothing to hold it in place or shape it to your mouth," said Schoelwer. To join them together, there were two, "very tight silver springs" so that when he opened his mouth, the springs forced the upper denture to rise with his mouth, allowing him to open and close it.

"Because that spring is so strong, it's always pushing against the top of your mouth, so in order to keep your mouth closed, you had to really grit your teeth all the time," she explained, noting his portraits depict how uncomfortable (and painful) this must have been.

In his 1789 inaugural address, Washington mentioned the "frequent interruptions" his health had suffered over his lifetime. At the time, he had a single remaining natural tooth, according to the museum's history.

You also may be interested in...

Topic
Jun 21, 2024

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness is your ability to sustain your health and wellness and facilitate restoration to meet medical and dental standards for fitness for duty, return to duty, and medical readiness.

Article Around MHS
Jun 11, 2024

Stories of Valor and Sacrifice: Navy Medical Heroes at Midway

historic photo of military personnel on the USS Yorktown 1942

The Battle of Midway stands as a pivotal moment in World War II, a turning point that decisively shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. For the Navy, June 4, 1942, remains a sacred date, one that not only celebrates a historic victory but also encourages us to look back on the tremendous courage and sacrifice of all who served. This includes the ...

Video
Jun 5, 2024

D-Day Medic Waverly B. Woodson, Jr.

DDay Medic Waverly Woodson

World War II medic Waverly B. Woodson, Jr. was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest U.S. military honor, for saving countless lives during the Allied Invasion of Normandy of World War II. Waverly was only 21-years-old, serving in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, when he was deployed to France. He spent over 30 ...

Article
Jun 4, 2024

The Heroic Nurses of D-Day: ‘I Could Not Sit Idly By’

The Heroic Nurses of D-Day: ‘I Could Not Sit Idly By’

U.S. Army Corps nurses played a pivotal role in the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, the largest sea, air, and land invasion in history. Eighty years ago, the allied forces, including nearly 160,000 American, British, and Canadian service members, landed on the beaches at Normandy and began pushing inland. Nurses were deployed soon ...

Article Around MHS
May 27, 2024

Revolutionizing Mental Health Support: The Game Changing Role of the U.S. Navy Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team

Navy Medicine graphic

Seven sailors died, and 48 others were injured when the guided a missile frigate and the aircraft carrier collided while performing nighttime exercises on Nov. 22, 1975. For years, the traumatic experience of that collision scarred many sailors who escaped physical injury but carried the invisible weight of the tragedy. The psychiatrists involved in ...

Video
May 24, 2024

The Nurses of Normandy

The Nurses of Normandy

Military nurses were saved many lives during WW2. 1LT Marian Charlotte Jones and 1LT Edna Nina Statman both served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War 2. They share their stories of caring for our military men after D-Day in Normandy, France. Watch their full interviews via the Library of Congress: Jones: https://www.loc.gov/collections ...

Video
May 22, 2024

Nurses of Vietnam - The Women of Vietnam

Nurses of Vietnam - The Women of Vietnam

Three nurses recount their experiences during the Vietnam War, stationed both on land and sea. From deployment to the lasting bonds they created, these women tell a story of heroism, perservierence, and lifelong friendship. Interview Courtesy of the Library of Congress: Lt Col Frances Liberty: https://www.loc.gov/item/afc2001001.02548/ LCDR ...

Video
May 22, 2024

Nurses of Vietnam - Liberty's Rosary Beads

Nurses of Vietnam - Liberty's Rosary Beads

Lt Col Frances Liberty, with the US Army Nurses Corps, recounts the heartwarming story of a soldier she cared for during the Vietnam War, the lasting impression they made on each other, and the keepsake he recieved from her, an item which he still holds dear to this day. Interviews courtesy of the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item ...

Article Around MHS
May 6, 2024

U.S. Navy Medicine Announces Sailor of the Year

Military personnel with award

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Peter Munoz from Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Twentynine Palms, California, was announced as Navy Medicine's 2023 Sailor of the Year, on April 24, 2024.

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 11, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery