One of the most enduring myths about George Washington is that his dentures were made of wood.

While this tall tale isn’t backed up in truth, Washington’s problems with his dental hygiene are long-chronicled and are likely to have cause the leader great pain.

What we do know is that Washington turned to dentures made of hippo ivory and human ‘slave teeth’ to try and cure his woes.

The true story is revealed in an in-depth article by William Maloney, clinical associate professor of dentistry at New York University for The Conversation

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One of the most enduring myths about George Washington is that his dentures were made of wood. In fact, they were made of ivory and human teeth. Pictured: George Washington's lower denture and last remaining tooth, held at the New York Academy of Medicine

One of the most enduring myths about George Washington is that his dentures were made of wood. In fact, they were made of ivory and human teeth. Pictured: George Washington’s lower denture and last remaining tooth, held at the New York Academy of Medicine 

This world famous portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1821 now hangs in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. The artists padded Washington's face with cotton buds, due to the ill fitting support of his dentures causing his face to sink

This world famous portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1821 now hangs in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. The artists padded Washington’s face with cotton buds, due to the ill fitting support of his dentures causing his face to sink

WERE WASHINGTON’S DENTURES MADE OF WOOD?

One of the most enduring myths about George Washington is that his dentures were made of wood.  

But William Maloney, clinical associate professor of dentistry, New York University, said this is not the case.

What might have led people to believe that Washington’s teeth were made from wood, he says, was the brownish stain on his denture teeth

This was most likely the result of tobacco use or stain-inducing wine, Professor Maloney concludes. 

While it’s quite possible that some of Washingto’s dentures, particularly after they had been stained, took on a wooden complexion, but wood was never used in the construction of any of his dental fittings.

‘I am a professor of dentistry who has studied the history of Washington’s teeth and have found it very interesting separating fact from fiction regarding Washington’s oral health’, said Professor Maloney, writing for The Conversation.  

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Gilbert Stuart produced what would become the most well-recognised portrait of any American president to this day.

When Washington sat for a session with the painter in 1795, Washington’s face was so sunken from the poor facial support provided by his ill-fitting dentures that Stuart was forced to place cotton in Washington’s mouth to bulk up his cheeks.

Washington’s dental problems likely started during his time in the Virginia Militia fighting alongside the British, during the French and Indian War, 1754–1763, long before his heroic deeds against the British in the American Revolution.

He wrote at the time also wrote in his diary that he had paid five shillings to a ‘Doctor Watson’ for the extraction of a tooth.

During the war, Washington purchased dozens of toothbrushes, tooth powders and pastes, and tinctures of myrrh. 

Unfortunately his dedication to his dental health did not prevent the suffering he would endure throughout his life.

While George Washington was in Newburgh, New York on Christmas Day, 1782, he penned a letter to his cousin, Lund Washington, who served as the temporary manager of his Mount Vernon estate during the American Revolution.

He asked Lund to look into a drawer of his desk at Mount Vernon where he had placed two small front teeth, perhaps one of several slaves’ teeth that Washington purchased over the years.

At the time of Washington’s death, 317 slaves lived at Mount Vernon. A simple notation in the Mount Vernon plantation ledger books for 1784 may reveal the source of some of Washington’s denture teeth. 

The notation simply reads: ‘By cash pd Negroes for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr. Lemoin (aka La Mayeur).’  

Washington’s dentist, Dr Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur, was known for his practice of paying people for their healthy teeth which he would use to make dentures for his wealthy clients.

Historians also do not know for certain whether the teeth that Washington bought from La Mayeur ended up in his later ivory dentures.

Historians do not know for certain whether the teeth Washington bought ended up in his ivory dentures Pictured: George Washington by Charles Willson Peale, 1779. The swollen cheek and a slightly visible scar could have been due to an abscessed tooth in the young soldier

Historians do not know for certain whether the teeth Washington bought ended up in his ivory dentures Pictured: George Washington by Charles Willson Peale, 1779. The swollen cheek and a slightly visible scar could have been due to an abscessed tooth in the young soldier

Washington’s poor dental health even affected his two presidential inaugurations. 

When Washington first took the oath of office of the president of the United States on April 30, 1789 he only had one natural tooth remaining.

Dr John Greenwood, a well-known dentist who practised in New York City, Greenwood made a denture for Washington from carved hippopotamus ivory, human teeth and brass nails.  

Dr Greenwood made a hole in the denture so the denture would slip snugly over the one remaining tooth, Professor Maloney notes.

When Washington delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, 1793, his dentures were causing him so much pain and difficulty that his speech is still the shortest inaugural address in history.

It lasted just two minutes and consisted of only 135 words – shorter even than Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  

WHY DID GEORGE WASHINGTON’S WIFE GIVE SOME OF HIS HAIR AWAY AND HOW DID IT END UP IN A COLLEGE IN NEW YORK?

Scholars suggest Martha Washington (pictured) George Washington's wife, had given Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton some of George's hair

Scholars suggest Martha Washington (pictured) George Washington’s wife, had given Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton some of George’s hair

A lock of George Washington’s hair has been found in a long-forgotten book in a library of New York’s Union college.

The grey hair, belonging to the first president of the United States, was found tied together by a single thread inside an envelope in a leather book belonging to Philip Jeremiah Schuyler, the son of evolutionary war general Philip John Schuyler.  

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Upon examination of the book, a slender yellow envelope was found tucked inside, inscribed ‘Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & (scratched out) GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug.10, 1871.’

James Alexander Hamilton, a grandson of General Schuyler, was the third son of Alexander and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. 

At the time, people often exchanged hair as a keepsake, and scholars suggest that Martha Washington, George Washington’s wife, had given Elizabeth some of George’s hair, which in turn was given to their son James, who later distributed it to close friends and family. 

Alexander Hamilton (pictured) served as a lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War under Washington

Scholars suggest that Martha Washington, George Washington's wife (pictured) had given Elizabeth some of George's hair, which in turn was given to their son James Alexander Hamilton, who later distributed it to close friends and family

George and Martha Washington were close to the much younger Alexander (left) and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (right), according to Ron Chernow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Hamilton (which inspired the Broadway musical)

Officials with the Schuyler Mansion, a state historic site in Albany, believe that James Hamilton gave the lock of Washington’s hair to his granddaughters, Louisa Lee Schuyler and Georgina Schuyler, whose initials are on the envelope discovered at Union. 

The grey hair was found inside an envelope in a leather book belonging to Philip Jeremiah Schuyler, the son of evolutionary war general Philip John Schuyler (pictured)

The grey hair was found inside an envelope in a leather book belonging to Philip Jeremiah Schuyler, the son of evolutionary war general Philip John Schuyler (pictured)

The mansion displays another few strands of Washington’s hair in a locket kept under glass.  

One mystery still remains: How did Philip Jeremiah Schuyler’s almanac, with the hair inside, find itself in the College’s archives? 

According to the College, no records have been found confirming where the book came from.  

However, his father, General Philip Schuyler, has a strong connection to Union College. 

He is considered one of the College’s founders because, as a member of the New York State Board of Regents, he supported the placement of a college in Schenectady instead of Albany. 

His letter announcing the granting of a charter for Union College is kept in its Special Collections 



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