by John Trumbull
Landsdowne Portrait
by Gilbert Stuart
Washington had a long history of illness. In 1751 he wrote of having smallpox and the
following year complained that he had had a bout of "violent plurise." As a young
lieutenant colonel in 1755 serving with General Braddock in the French and Indian War,
he suffered "pain in the head" and dysentery. In 1761 when he was twenty-nine and
back at Mt. Vernon, he got "breakbone fever," now known as dengue fever,
characterized by headache, fever, and severe muscles and joint pain. Over the ensuing
years there were attacks of malaria, flu, and rheumatic complaints. Adding to the stress
as commander of the Continental Army were constant unrelieved toothaches. In some
instances, one cannot help but wonder if his teeth might have been the source of the
chronic infections he suffered.
George's Dentures
Quiz #483 Results
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Answers to Quiz #483- July 5 2015
1.  Who did these belong to?
2. Name one of his dentists.
3. What were some of the problems he had with them?
Happy 4th of July
Forensic Genealogy!
1.  George Washington
2. Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur, John Greenwood. John Baker, James Gardette
3.  Toothaches, inflamed gums, ill-fitting dentures, etc.
Comments from Our Readers
First reaction to this image: Were these George Washington's dentures? This came
to mind because one "fact" that has been written about George is that
he had a set of wooden dentures. Therefore I searched Google Images fro
"Washington's dentures". When I typed in "Washington's" one of the suggestions
that came up in the list was "Washington's teeth" so I clicked on that. Many images
of the teeth in the quiz image came up. First, I went to the Mount Vernon website.
This site had a lot of very interesting information concerning facts about George's
teeth and dentures. One fact was that the "fact" that George had a set of wooden
teeth was false. Now I looked at the questions to see if the answers were on the
Mount Vernon webpage. All the answers were there!
Tony Knapp
WOW! Thank goodness modern day dentures are a great improvement to these
teeth that George Washington had to endure!

I was eating my breakfast when I looked at the quiz for this week! I'll wait to solve
the puzzle until I am done eating breakfast!!!!!!!!!!!!  
Grace Hertz and Mary Turner
The Fabulous Fletcher Sisters
Well, I'm pretty sure George Washington is rolling over in his grave.  It was bad
enough to have false teeth, but to have them on display is adding insult to injury.
The dentist who made Georges first false teeth was Dr. John Baker.  Another
dentist was Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur.  Dr. John Greenwood made a better set of
teeth and was rewarded by receiving George Washingtons last tooth when it came
out.  That tooth is now in the possession of New York Academy of Medicine.
George Washington had trouble eating and speaking with the teeth.  They stained
easily and they distorted his face.

In researching the answer, it surprised me that it was not uncommon for people to
sell their teeth at this time.  The teeth would be used to make dentures.  I wondered
if this practice had anything to do with the origin of the tooth fairy myth.  It doesn't.
Carol Gene Farrant
Thanks Colleen.  It was fun :)
Liz Pidgeon
I should have followed my instincts for this quiz: my first thought was GW, and I
ignored it. Fortunately, I got straightened out pretty quickly.
Peter Norton
I assumed these were Washington's teeth so got the image first crack. Surprising
the difficulty he had with his teeth and the false ones.
Arthur Hartwell
I took a guess and was right on my first try.  :)  I thought "famous person, teeth,
must be Washington...."  I don't think I have ever heard anything about the man
without teeth being mentioned.  I think they are more famous than anything else
about him - they have turned into a single entity; we should just call them "The
Teeth" and give them their own chapter in the kids' history books.

It seems like there are thousands of websites dedicated to "The Teeth".  Here are
just a few, which I am sure you already have. :)
Beth Long
These are one set of George Washington's false teeth. These are displayed in the
Education Center at Mount Vernon. I have seen them there.
Ellen Welker
He did not have wooden teeth; one website I looked at said that really nobody did at
that time - "it would have been pretty silly to make them out of wood when better
materials were available".
Roger Lipsett
I've had a few dental events, enough to know that I'm damn glad not to have
chronic problems. Sounds like ol' George had an awful burden. Such pain, besides
being dreadful in itself, is exhausting. To have to run a war and a country while
bearing that is no mean feat.
Peter Norton
I've had a few dental events, enough to know that I'm damn glad not to have
chronic problems. Sounds like ol' George had an awful burden. Such pain, besides
being dreadful in itself, is exhausting. To have to run a war and a country while
bearing that is no mean feat.
Peter Norton
I enjoy the challenge you pose in the quizzes, but I generally rely on the internet as
my "source". My general knowledge is a bit thin, especially history and especially
especially American. I have no idea what GW was like as a President. Do you think
he was unusual for his time (unusually pained)? Thinking of the physical conditions
my ancestors lived in 200 years ago (housing, clothing, travel, food, working
conditions etc) poor health would be just part of the mix!
Brett McL Robinson
Yes we can sympathise with GW and his dental problems – thought the pic could
have been of our NHS ones!!!  Needless to say we have private dental care!

We often hear fireworks for July 4th as there is/was an American school quite near
who celebrated.  
Maggie Gould
He may not have been very empathetic to others owing to dental pain!
Tom Collins
I wonder how often he just went without teeth. And yes, I wonder how his,
discomfort affected our history. They certainly weren't pretty teeth!
Charlie Wayne
Early dentistry was certainly no picnic, that is for sure.  I used to work in the
antiques business and seeing some of the dental tools could make one very queasy.
Mollie Collins
Early dentistry was certainly no picnic, that is for sure.  I used to work in the
antiques business and seeing some of the dental tools could make one very queasy.
Margaret Paxton
OUches indeed!  I have endured enough dental treatment myself -- too many
crowns and replacement crowns.  I am so glad my kids seem to have perfect teeth,
so far.  Well, Betsy had her time with removal of wisdom teeth and braces, but it all
worked, she lived through it and looks good today.  Poor George.  Yikes, he died at
my age.  
Judy Pfaff
There is nothing more painful than an abscess tooth. Had a double abscess once
upon a time on the root of one of my teeth and the dentist couldn't find it because
he hadn't taken the x-Ray in the right place so I suffered with it for a few months.
So, I can empathize with Washington. The pain could drive one to madness I would
think if left for too long unattended.
Cindy Costigan
I know what he went through. Never had any dental problems until 10 years ago, in
which I had an accident on a brakeless bike and lost half my teeth. Literally spent
the next 18 months sitting on a dentist chair, I would spend about 10 - 12
hours/week, had about 10 minor surgeries and one big one under GA.
My teeth right now are 3 titanium implants with ceramic crowns, 2 ceramic roots
with plastic crowns, another golden root with porcelain... about 10 root canals and
a Maryland bridge, can't imagine going through that without al the 20th century
Ida Sanchez
No kidding! I never thought of it that way, but you're right. Washington must have
been grumpy most if not all of the time.
Tynan Peterson

Congratulations to Our Winners!

Margaret Paxton                Ida Sanchez
Rebecca Bare                Carol Gene Farrant
Liz Pidgeon                Peter Norton
Maggie Gould                Arthur Hartwell
Winnifred Evans                Beth Long
Ellen Welker                Ellen Welker
Judy Kiss                Cindy Costigan
Gus Marsh                Bill Utterback
Judy Pfaff                Tynan Peterson
Tom Collins                Clark Lind
Margaret Lanoue                Joe Ruffner
Charlie Wayne                Elaine C. Hebert
Roger Lipsett                Jon Edens
Robin Depietro                Molly Collins
Tony Knapp                Brett Robinson
Jim Kiser                Milene Rawlinson
Joshua Kreitzer                Marcelle Comeau
Tynan Peterson                Janice M. Sellers

Grace Hertz and Mary Turner
The Fabulous Fletchers!
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Contrary to American legend, George
Washington never owned a set of
wooden teeth - while he did own many
sets of dentures, none were of wood
construction. Through the letters,
journals, and accounts left by our First
President we have a well documented
case history of his lifelong dental
problems and the level of dental care
available in the mid and late 18th

How Ida Solved the Puzzle
While opening the page, something told me to take Tony [Knapp]'s
approach from 2 weeks ago and as soon as I saw the image, I closed
it. Never saw a peep of the questions, in fact, didn't even see the 4th
of July reference (and clue).

All I noticed was a set of teeth and what looked like a description of
them, which indicated that they were being exhibited. Given
that, I googled "teeth in a museum". And several images of all types
of dental displays in all sorts of settings.

Scrolling down I found a picture of the same set of teeth and opened
the page. It was about a GW temporary exhibit in the Gilcrease
Museum in Tulsa 3 years ago (on 4th of July, of course). But once
knowing that it was GW's teeth, I googled them directly and found
the Mt Vernon page dedicated to his dental issues.

Ida Sanchez
These dentures are in the collection at
Mount Vernon – the only remaining full-
set in existence.
Rembrandt Peale
1772 aged 40
by Charles Willson Peale
by Gilbert Stuart
Rembrandt Peale (February 22,
1778 – October 3, 1860) was an
American artist and museum keeper.
A prolific portrait painter, he was
especially acclaimed for his
likenesses of presidents George
Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Peale's style was influenced by
French Neoclassicism after a stay in
Paris in his early thirties.

Rembrandt Peale was born the third
of six surviving children (eleven had
died) to his mother, Rachel Brewer,
and father, Charles Willson Peale in
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on
February 22, 1778. The father,
Charles, also a notable artist, taught
all of his children to paint scenery
and portraiture, and tutored
Rembrandt in the arts and sciences.
began drawing at the age of eight. A year after his mother’s death and
the remarriage of his father, Peale left the school of the arts, and
completed his first self-portrait at the age of 13. The canvas displays
the young artist's early mastery. The clothes, however, give the notion
that Peale over-exaggerated what a 13 year old would look like, and
Peale's hair curls like the hair of a Renaissance angel. Later in his life,
Peale "often showed this painting to young beginners, to encourage
them to go from 'bad' to better..."

In July of 1787, Charles Willson Peale introduced his son Rembrandt to
George Washington, and the young aspirant artist watched his father
paint the future president. In 1795, at the age of 17, Rembrandt painted
an aging Washington, making him appear far more aged than in reality.
The portrait was well received, and Rembrandt had
made his debut.  
by James Peale
by Rembrandt Peale
Photo of one of George Washington’s toothbrushes
According to his accounts, he received the
standard medical treatments of the day, which
included heavy doses of the infamous calomel
(mercurous chloride) that can lead to destruction
of the teeth. This, combined with what may have
been naturally poor teeth, led to dental problems
beginning when Washington was twenty-two.
Over the next thirty-five years, he would lose all
his teeth despite daily brushing, use of dentifrice
and mouthwash. Washington's toilet set,
containing a silver toothbrush and tongue scraper
with a silver tooth powder case, can be seen at
Mt. Vernon.

Toothpowders were made from pumice, borax,
roots and herbs, even burnt bread and tobacco
were sometimes used. Unfortunately some of the
powders were quite abrasive and could destroy
the tooth enamel. Washington might have used
solutions made with herbs or the resins of balsam
or myrrh as a mouthwash. Salt, wine or vinegar
could also be added to water for rinsing the mouth.

Toothaches followed by extraction would be a
yearly occurrence for Washington. There were
frequent episodes of infected and abscessed teeth,
inflamed gums, and finally ill-fitting dentures. One
can imagine that his reputed "hair-trigger temper"
might have been the result of a constant battle
with pain. He was continually corresponding with
noted dentists of the day asking for a file to repair
a denture, a scraper to clean his teeth or pincers
to fasten wires on his teeth. He inquired about a
dentist of "whose skill much has been said." He
requested material to make a model of his teeth so
a dentist could make new dentures.

When George Washington was inaugurated for his
first term as president in 1789, he had only one
natural tooth remaining and was wearing his first
full set of dentures made by John Greenwood.
Previously he had had partial dentures which were
held in place by hooking them around the
remaining teeth.  The Greenwood dentures had a
base of hippopotamus ivory carved to fit the
gums. The upper denture had ivory teeth and the
lower plate consisted of eight human teeth
fastened by gold pivots that screwed into the
base. The set was secured in his mouth by spiral

Washington's next set of dentures was made in
1791 and a third in 1795, for which he paid sixty
dollars. James Gardette made a large and very
clumsy set for him in 1796. Apparently
Washington was not pleased with these dentures
and may have ordered another set from
Greenwood in 1797. Washington often returned
dentures for adjustments and repairs, at one time
complaining that "they were forcing his lips out."
His final set was made in 1798, the year before he
died. This set has a swagged gold plate with
individual backing for each tooth which was
fastened by rivets. The lower denture of this set,
along with others, are on display in the Dr.
Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in

Written descriptions of Washington's physical
appearance note facial and vocal changes over the
years. Portraits by leading painters of the day also
record facial changes. Some of the alterations in
his appearance may have been due to his dentures.
For example, the springs, securing his dentures
could have pushed his teeth forward, causing the
cheeks to look puffy.

In Charles Wilson Peale's first portrait of
Washington in 1757, the mouth is noted to be
quite small. Washington was twenty-five at that
time and certainly still had some of his natural
teeth. The painting done in 1776 by the same artist
shows a scar on the left cheek from a fistula
caused by an abscessed tooth. Here the face is
long and oval. There is a story that Peale made a
set of dentures for Washington when he was
sitting for one of his portraits, because Peale felt
that the set he was wearing was causing him too
much discomfort and facial disfigurement.

Rembrandt Peale's portrait in 1795 is thought to
be a realistic one and here the mouth is seen as
puffy and swollen. Gilbert Stuart reportedly
packed cotton inside Washington's mouth to
support the lips in his 1797 painting.

It is not difficult to imagine that George
Washington's dental problems might have had
some influence on history. Dental discomfort is
said to have caused him to forgo giving his
second inaugural address. Eating, smiling, and
talking all must have given him great discomfort.
In later life he could only eat soft foods. The story
of Washington's long and painful struggle with
severe dental problems adds another dimension to
this American hero's life as well as to the history
of dentistry.
George Washington's ivory dentures in  
National Museum of Dentistry