Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

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)

Recommended Content:

Our History | TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

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...

Teeth Grinding: You Won't Believe How Harmful it Really Is

Article
2/28/2022
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Justin Sobleskie (right), and U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Roberts, USS Carter Hall dental department head, do dental work on aboard the USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) while at sea.

Grinding your teeth, called bruxism, can lead to migraines and neck pain or require surgery to replace the joint in your jaw.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Remembering Dr. Alexander Augusta, the U.S. Army’s First Black Doctor

Article
2/25/2022
A photo of Maj. (Dr.) Alexander Augusta among the Seventh Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops where he served as regimental surgeon during the Civil War.

Dr. Alexander Augusta was the first African American to be an Army doctor.

Recommended Content:

Our History | Paving the Way for African Americans in Military Medicine: A Look Across Time

The Chief of the Army Dental Corps Talks Dental Health & Readiness

Article
2/22/2022
The Army’s top dentist talks about what service members should keep in mind about their dental health.

Here’s what the Army’s top dentist thinks service members should keep in mind about their dental health.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness | TRICARE Dental Care

A Deployed Dentist Recalls His 'One-Chair' Clinic in Afghanistan

Article
2/16/2022
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Andrew Gutierrez did a tour of duty as a dentist downrange in Afghanistan.

“The soldiers knew whether there was a dentist on base. Those who needed something found me.”

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Reduce your risk of developing cancer

Article Around MHS
2/15/2022
About one of every three Americans will develop some form of malignancy during his or her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genes, lifestyle, and the environment work together to increase or decrease risk of getting cancer. Each person’s cancer risk is made up of a combination of these factors.

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. 

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

How 3D-Printed Teeth and Other New Tech are Transforming Dental Care

Article
2/15/2022
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jaden Murry had nearly all of his lower jaw removed because of a tumor. The procedure was the DOD’s first ever immediate jaw reconstruction surgery using 3D-printed teeth.

Advances in dental technology are improving care and increasing the number of patients willing to get treatment when needed.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Women’s Heart Attacks Symptoms Can Differ from Men’s: Know the Signs

Article
2/11/2022
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can differ between women and men. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 quickly.

Doctors say women sometimes fail to recognize their unique warnings signs for heart problems.

Recommended Content:

Heart Health Toolkit | Total Force Fitness | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Heart Health | Women's Health

Why Dental Health is Essential for Warfighters and Military Readiness

Article
2/4/2022
U.S. Air Force Major Rachael Parrish, 20th Dental Squadron general dentist, performs an oral exam on Airman 1st Class Amie Bickford, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions technician at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, March 13, 2017. Airmen assigned to the 20th DS are tasked with ensuring airmen and soldiers on base meet all dental class requirements for deployment.

Your mouth is a gateway to your body. Bad oral hygiene can lead to serious health consequences that may affect your military readiness.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Ask the Doc: Overcoming Your Fear of the Dentist

Article
2/1/2022
Patient getting dental care

Seeing the dentist can be scary. Here are some tips for how to make your next visit easier.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Ask The Doc

Dental Health is Mission Critical

Video
1/21/2022
Dental Health is Mission Critical

Dental emergencies are one of the top reasons people can't deploy or why they're brought home early. Take care of your dental health with these tips.

Recommended Content:

Dental Health | TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Dental Health Main

Infographic
1/13/2022
Dental Health Main

Dental and oral health is critical to overall readiness, and poor dental hygiene and preventive practices can impact deployability. #dentalhealth

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Dental Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Dental Awareness Deployment

Infographic
1/13/2022
Dental Awareness Deployment

A force that is not dentally prepared may see a fivefold increase in deployed dental emergencies. Regular dental care is needed to maintain readiness and deployability. #dentalhealth

Recommended Content:

Dental Health | TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Dental Statistics

Infographic
1/12/2022
Dental Statistics

Dental Did You Know? Dental issues can negatively impact your deployability. Stay mission ready and keep on top of your dental care. #dentalhealth

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Dental Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Dental Health Awareness. Things to do in your birthday month?

Infographic
1/12/2022
Dental Health Awareness. Things to do in your birthday month?

Is your birthday this month? Happy birthday! Now is the perfect time to schedule your annual dentist appointment. #dentalhealth

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Dental Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Food and Beverage

Infographic
1/12/2022
Food and Beverage

#DYK: Drinks and foods high in sugar can lead to damage to your teeth. Skip the soda to protect your teeth. #dentalhealth

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Dental Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 8
Refine your search
Last Updated: February 03, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.