Skip ToContent
Main Content

Fast Facts About the Founding Fathers’ Pearly Whites!

It's July! The month of our nation's independence! So we decided it's time to talk about the dental care our Founding Fathers would have received, as well as settle some certain misconceptions once and for all!

George Washington's teeth weren't actually wooden

This myth has been floating around for decades and passing itself off as common knowledge, but George Washington actually did not have wooden dentures! It was a helpful rumor, though, as it made George seem like a more relatable, salt-of-the-Earth kind of guy. But the truth is still pretty interesting- George's dentures were made of hippopotamus ivory! If you're interested in seeing them yourself, they're currently on display at the National Museum of Dental History is Baltimore, MD.

Hippopotamus teeth weren't Washington's first attempt at improving his smile

Interestingly enough, George Washington was one of the first people in the brand new country of America to have teeth implanted. But strangely, and sadly, he had them yanked directly out of the mouths of healthy adult slaves in order for them to be transplanted into his own. This technique wasn't very well thought out and was wildly ineffective. The teeth lasted just a couple of months before his hippopotamus ivory dentures were commissioned.

Some scary common dental practices

In the early 1700's, "barber surgeons" performed most dental procedures. These were jack-of-all-trades types of guys who would remove teeth, and perform minor dental surgery in addition to cutting hair, applying leeches and embalming the deceased. Luckily for us all, real dental practitioners migrated to the American colonies and refined the practices of removing diseased teeth and creating dentures.

In the 1800's, some procedures included extracting teeth with a turnkey (which was a primitive tool, kind of like a ratchet wrench), cleaning the teeth with scrapers and removing cavities with hand instruments. The materials they used for fillings were tin, lead, silver and gold foil. Dentures were hand carved from ivory or the teeth of cattle.

Benjamin Franklin's mercury pills

Benjamin Franklin has always been revered for his wisdom. However, later in his life he made some less than wise health decisions. As he aged, Ben Franklin contracted gout and kidney stones. As an attempt to cure the kidney stones, Franklin took mercury pills for a month, losing several of his teeth in the process!

Lucky for us, dentistry has come a long way since our Founding Fathers had to have hippo teeth! Enjoy your 4th of July and don't forget to stop by for a cleaning!

Posted on Jun 23, 2015

Share:

Archives

Jan 12, 2020, 3:46 PM
Headaches can be caused by many reasons including stress, dehydration, the result of certain medications, or muscle tension…
Dec 23, 2019, 9:26 PM
After spending roughly 18-months to 2-years wearing braces, you don’t want to allow your teeth to shift back into place once…
Dec 17, 2019, 9:40 PM
It’s the season for gift-giving, visiting family members and friends, and sharing delicious candy and treats. Your dental…
Nov 25, 2019, 11:25 PM
Cleft lips and palates are birth defects affecting the mouth and lips. In the U.S., around 6,800 babies a year are born with…
Nov 12, 2019, 11:56 PM
In the event that your child has a tooth that has been chipped or cracked, or if a tooth has been slightly discolored or…