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George Washington Had Hippo in His Mouth

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Don’t ask him to smile.

Poor George Washington.  He routed the British, helped found the USA, and was even elected America’s first president.  But he was nearly powerless against plaque.  On the day of his inauguration, he only had one tooth left in his mouth.

Some people will tell you that Washington had wooden dentures or fake teeth.  This is incorrect.  Washington’s dentures were not made of wood, but rather all manner of unlikely things: gold, rivets, spiral springs, real human teeth, and even the ivory of elephants and hippopotami.  (If you want to see Washington’s actual dentures, they are on display at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland.)

Why did Washington lose all his teeth?  Some think it was because he lead a very active life.  He was a surveyor in the wilderness, a soldier, and an accomplished horseman.  When he and the boys gathered at the tavern to talk about revolution, he’d astound the other Founding Fathers with feats of strength, like cracking walnuts with his bare fingers.

Such a rough-and-tumble life can take its toll on a man’s health.  Over his life, he caught smallpox, dysentery, dengue fever, and even malaria.  The medicines of the time were not that great, and some even had bad effects on teeth.  In addition, dental health for children and adults wasn’t very good.  They didn’t have the effective toothpastes we have today.  In the 18th century, some tooth powders could actually scrape and wear down enamel.  Things never really got better for poor George, either.  The dentures were anything but comfortable.  It’s said that his second inaugural address, perhaps the shortest on record, was so brief because his dentures were such a pain to wear.

Luckily, dental science has improved greatly.  The toothpaste you use, and even your brush, is far better than anything George Washington had available.  Instead of dental floss, Washington had to use a silver scraper to get between his teeth.  Even dentures are better today, being made of plastic resins and porcelain.  This means your dentist can spend more time keeping kids’ teeth healthy, and less time tromping through Africa hunting hippopotami.

>>See a close-up of George Washington’s Teeth

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