From San Clemente Dentist Dr. Eric Johnson
Five Fascinating Dental Facts about Our Founding Fathers
It's July, which means it's Independence Month which means it's time to talk about our Founding Fathers. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting dental facts about the Fathers of Our Country.
George Washington Didn't Have Wooden Teeth
The myth is pervasive; everyone knows that George Washington had wooden teeth. No doubt this helped add to the man's image as an average George who was amazing in part because he was such a simple and straightforward man. However, the National Museum of Dental history in Baltimore, MD, shows the truth; George Washington's dentures are on display there for all to see. They're not made of wood, but rather of beautiful hippopotamus ivory.
Washington's Teeth Weren't All Dentures, Either
One of the most interesting things about our founding fathers is that they were human, and some certainly had foibles that make us stop and shudder when we think about them today. The practice of transplanting healthy teeth into an unhealthy mouth had began in England almost fifty years earlier, but George Washington was one of the first people in the newborn country of America to have teeth transplanted and he had them quite literally pulled out of the mouths of healthy adult slaves before they were transplanted into his own. Unfortunately, the technique wasn't highly effective and the teeth only lasted a few months before the aforementioned ivory dentures were commissioned.
Paul Revere: The First Forensic Dentist in America
Paul Revere is famous for his midnight ride to alert his city of the coming British invasion and slightly less famous for being a silversmith. As part of his silver work, he used silver wire to put dentures into his friend's mouths. He also happened to, back in 1776, recognize a bit of his own wirework in the mouth of an unknown soldier killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill - one Joseph Warren, who had his dentures wired in place by Paul only nine months previous. By identifying a corpse through its denture work, Paul Revere became the first forensic dentist in America.
Patrick Henry Didn't Die of a Toothache
We're not even sure where this myth came from, but there are plenty of school kids and ex-school kids out there who are convinced that Patrick Henry essentially complained of a toothache one day and died the next (and the two are related.) The two events may have happened in the order given, but Patrick Henry was actually a victim of stomach cancer, not a lethal toothache.
Benjamin Franklin's "Pound of Cure" Sometimes Worse Than the Disease
Benjamin Franklin is famed as the source of many bits of wisdom, but dentists appreciated few more than the phrase "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." As it turns out, Franklin late in life contracted gout and a series of brutal kidney stones. As part of his attempts to cure the latter, he took mercury pills for several weeks which resulted in the loss of several of his teeth.
Fortunately for our modern Fathers (and Mothers!), we know a lot more about health in general and dentistry in specific than the Founding Fathers did there's no reason for an intelligent and responsible adult to need hippopotamus dentures, much less mercury pills. Keep yourself healthy and enjoy the rest of July!
Drs. Johnson, Risbrudt & Team