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Cutting Teeth

George Washington is born on his father's plantation. Although no records document it, the young boy's first tooth most likely appears sometime over the next year.

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Pope's Creek, Washington's Birthplace

Good Habits

Even with the French & Indian War underway, 23-year-old Washington makes personal dental care a priority. He buys the first of what will be dozens of toothbrushes, tinctures of myrrh, and other tooth powders and pastes.

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French & Indian War
1756, April

The Exodus Begins

Despite his best efforts to care for his teeth, Washington's first tooth is extracted in April. Almost every year after that Washington suffers from severe toothaches followed by extractions of the painful teeth.

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His mouth is large and generally firmly closed, but which from time to time discloses some defective teeth.”

Captain George Mercer, Washington's aide in the Virginia Regiment, 1760

Easy Eating

Washington's teeth continue to deteriorate, making it painful for him to chew. He writes a letter to a London merchant thanking him for his gift of "two large stone jars of pickled tripe", which is soft and easy to eat.

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First in Dental Care

Named to the Virginia delegation, Washington, now 42 years old, travels to Philadelphia to attend the first meeting of the Constitutional Convention. Every conscientious about his dental care, he purchases a toothbrush during his stay.

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Peale's Portrait

Already a Revolutionary War hero, Washington poses for a portrait painted by Charles Willson Peale. The portrait reveals a scar on Washington's left cheek, said to be the result of an abscessed tooth.

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Having some teeth which are very troublesome to me at times and of which I wish to be eased... by a man of skill.”

George Washington in a letter inquiring about a prospective dentist, 1783

Wired In

Now missing several teeth, the 49-year-old Washington wears false teeth wired to his remaining ones. He writes to his dentist William Baker requesting "a pair of pincers to fasten the wire."

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From the Mount Vernon Collection

Dental Scaler Set

Washington may have procured sets of dental instruments, such as this set of Scalers, to be used on his family by visiting surgeon-dentists. Scalers were used to scrape or "scale off" built-up tartar on teeth.

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False Impressions

Following his dentist's instructions, Washington uses wax and Plaster of Paris to construct a model of the inside of his mouth. He sends it to his dentist, who uses it to construct more false teeth for the General.

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1784, May

African American Teeth

Deep within one of Washington’s account books is an entry which details Washington’s purchase of 9 teeth from “Negroes” for 122 shillings. Whether the teeth provided by the Mount Vernon enslaved persons were simply being sold to dentist Dr. Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur or whether they were intended for George Washington, is unknown at this time. Although the fact that Washington paid for the teeth suggests that they were either for his own use or for someone in his family.

While this transaction might seem morbid to a modern audience, purchasing human teeth was a fairly common practice in the 18th century for affluent individuals.

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Then There was One

At his swearing in as first president of the United States, George Washington has only one tooth remaining. That year he receives the first of four full sets of dentures made by John Greenwood, featuring hippopotamus ivory and human teeth.

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Washington's inauguration
From the Mount Vernon Collection

Dental Hygiene Traveling Set

George Washington's morning routine of dental hygiene did not end with the loss of his teeth, as his five sets of dentures required constant maintenance and attention. Washington likely used this compact toilet set complete with a tooth brush, tooth-powder box, and tongue scraper while traveling during his presidency and subsequent retirement.

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He had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which accounts for the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face.”

Gilbert Stuart, Painter

Last to Go

During Washington's second term as United States president, his last tooth begins to cause him problems. The 64-year-old reluctantly allows his dentist, John Greenwood, to remove it and soon orders a new set of dentures.

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The Struggle Ends

On December 14, 1799, George Washington dies in his bedchamber at Mount Vernon. His lifelong dental issues were finally over.

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washington's tomb at mount vernon
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