Battling Tooth Decay and Redcoats: An Inside Look at George Washington’s Teeth

I hope everyone was able to have a fun and relaxing 4th of July weekend.  Since it was first celebrated in Philadelphia in 1777, this is our one day to celebrate our country’s freedom.  We honor the men and women who make it possible for us to continue to celebrate this day year after year.  After all, we may have been called the British Territory Student Dental Association (BTSDA, not as cool as ASDA) or something similar to that name 300 years later.

Just a few miles south of Washington DC is the 8000 acre plantation in Mount Vernon, Virginia where George Washington called home.  I am not the biggest history nerd so I was breezing through the boring exhibits in the museum one by one.  As I came to the final exhibit, something caught my eye.  It was a display case with a set of complete dentures.  These weren’t any old dentures, but the original set of dentures that George Washington wore as our nations first president.

Beside the display case was a wall with the following quote and writing…

At home all day- not well.   Still indisposed with an aching tooth and swelled and inflamed gum.

George Washington

Although he was a man of exceptional physical stature and stamina, George Washington suffered from chronically bad teeth.  Despite frequent brushing and availing himself of the finest dental care, he suffered through a lifetime of inflamed gums and abscessed teeth.  His torturous, oversized dentures left his mouth puffy, raw, and swollen- giving him little reason to smile.

Unfortunately I am not able to interview George Washington.  However, I would suspect that he suffered just as much pain due to dental reasons as he did due to physical injury on the battle field.  George Washington did take oral hygiene a little more seriously then his fellow soldiers as he had his own set of scalers that he used to clean his teeth.  These 1770 scalers were not similar to the Gracey’s or Universal Scalers that we see in our clinic today.  Each scaler had an interchangeable ivory handle and resembled silverware.

In today’s military, there is a list of strict standards for dental health.  Severe malocclusion, diseases of the jaw and oral tissues, lack of prosthesis that prevents normal chewing, and current decay on teeth may result in rejection from any branch within the US military.  Many dental students are recruited each year to serve as a dentist within our military and provide soldiers and their family the care they need to keep our country strong.

I will finish with 4th of July Dental Trivia (answers posted by Friday 7/9/10)…


  1. George Washington’s denture during his time as president has a hole or space for one natural tooth.  What tooth number (universal system ‘1-32’) did George Washington have as President? (It was said later that this tooth was pulled soon after becoming President due to another abscessed tooth. Please record your answer in the comments section.

[poll id=”4″]

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