Posted on Jun 23, 2015
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!
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.
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.
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 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!