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Did President George Washington Really Have Wooden Teeth? - Fascinating Facts For Kids

Portrait of George Washington.
George Washington... but did those lips hide wooden teeth?

The 4th of February, 2024, marks 235 years since George Washington was elected the first-ever President of the United States of America.

Now, George was famous for a great many things, but one of the most peculiar is that he is supposed to have had false teeth made entirely out of small lumps of wood.

But is this a true and bizarre fact of history or just a pure nonsensical myth? Well, the answer is a bit of both.

There’s no two ways about it, George had terrible dental hygiene. So bad in fact, that he was rabidly losing his prized gnashers as early as his twenties. Why was the pre-President losing so many teeth? George himself put it down to his habit of cracking walnuts with his toothy pegs (surely always a bad idea) but modern historians think it likely due to the fact he was given mercury chloride to treat smallpox.

Either way, by the time he became President, he only had one tooth left in his entire gobbington!

A set of George Washington's dentures.
A set of George Washington's dentures. Courtesy of The Library of Congress.

To this end, the President wore sets of dentures with fake teeth. He had four sets over his life, though none of them were made entirely of wood. Instead, each set of not-so-pearly whites was built from birch plywood, ivory, brass, gold, ivory from a hippo, and – most distressingly of all – teeth taken from enslaved people. Truly horrible! Springs, bolts, and metal fasteners were used to enable the jaw to be opened and closed. All of this was then stuffed into George’s mouth.

As you can imagine, these dentures were not comfortable to wear. George was in near-constant pain and the dismal dentures caused his lips to bulge unnaturally.

The fake teeth had to be regularly cleaned, though they still often went brown in colour; which probably led to the rumour starting that George Washington had teeth made of wood!

So, let that be a lesson for us all… less sweets and more tooth-brushing to win at life!  


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