Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: That Time Washington wore Falsies

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 21•15

gilbert-stuart-george-2Whenever I see portraits of George Washington (and I see them a lot. I live near an American Art musuem.) I’m struck by how his jawline reminds me of my grandmother’s. Like Washington, my grandmother wore false teeth.

Despite the name, Washington’s false teeth weren’t actually false. Nor were they wooden (contrary to popular myth). Most of his dentures actually had real human teeth in them. During his lifetime, he steadily lost his teeth. Often he saved them and had them wired to his real teeth. By the time Washington became president, he had several sets of dentures made using hippopotamus ivory or metal for the foundation, and “donated” human teeth.

George-Washington-teeth-hippo-ivoryAccording to Mount Vernon, Washington disliked the teeth, because they were uncomfortable and made his lower jaw stick out. The ivory ones tended to stain and needed lots of cleaning.

“Donated” teeth weren’t always donated. After wartime battles, looting of soldier’s bodies wasn’t only confined to their valuables. A looter could pull a soldier’s teeth and then sell them to a dentist. Some career soldiers even carried tools for extracting teeth from fallen enemies in case they had just such an opportunity. After the battle of Waterloo, so many solder’s teeth flooded the market that even up through Victorian times dentures were known as “Waterloo Teeth.”

But Washington’s teeth weren’t “Waterloo teeth.” By the battle of Waterloo, he’d already had his dentures made. The-antique-dentures.

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