Our Forefathers Didn’t Floss: Presidential Tooth Tales

In honor of Independence Day, we thought we’d look back at a time when our nation’s leaders didn’t exactly have regular checkups or dental insurance. Despite the popular story, George Washington didn’t really have wooden teeth. What he did have, however, was a variety of dentures made of everything from hippopotamus ivory to gold.1 One thing is true: this particular Founding Father definitely had poor oral health, likely due to illnesses. He lost his first permanent tooth when he was only 22 years old and was down to just one of his own teeth by his presidential inauguration in 1790 at the age of 58. Perhaps knowing of George Washington’s trouble with dentures, John Adams refused to wear them even after he lost his teeth. As a result, he developed a lisp late in life.2 On July 18, 1824, Thomas Jefferson penned a letter to artist and friend Charles Willson Peale, proudly proclaiming, I am particularly happy in that not needing your porcelain teeth. I have lost only one by age, the rest continuing sound.3

1 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6875436/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/george-washingtons-false-teeth-not-wooden/#.T2onmtlkjq5
2 http://books.google.com/books?id=pydpqviIcnQC&pg=PA150&dq=JOHN+ADAMS+lisp+dentures&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Y-ZpT4CSDqX40gG5rbmHCQ&ved=0CFIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=JOHN%20ADAMS%20lisp%20dentures&f=false
3 http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/teeth


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