Did George Washington really have wooden teeth? Did FDR call for his missing tooth prior to a fireside chat? Did Ulysses S. Grant leave for six days of battle and carry nothing but his toothbrush?
As it’s President’s Day, these are just a few of the questions we’re thinking about. Get ready to gain some presi-dental knowledge!
It all begins with President Washington. We’ve heard about Washington’s wooden teeth, but it turns out that this is a myth, according to the American Dental Association. Our nation’s first president had poor dental health, but he never sported wooden teeth. By the time of his inauguration, he had just one natural tooth left, and it is said that he often did his own extractions.
Through the years, Washington wore a variety of dentures made from ivory, gold and lead, according to the Mount Vernon website.
While researching presidential dental health in the 1980s, retired dentist Dr. Jack Ragsdale learned that Washington was known to be short-tempered, he seldom laughed, he had difficulty chewing food, and he often avoided social gatherings. Ragsdale told the Chicago Tribune these characteristics could be attributed to tooth decay and ill-fitting false teeth.
So where did the rumor about the wooden teeth begin? There’s no historical genesis that researchers are aware of, but it has been hypothesized that it is because the ivory used in the dentures made for Washington by dentist John Greenwood stained over time, which created a grained, wooden appearance that misled later observers, according to the Mount Vernon site.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt wore a partial denture to replace his two front teeth.
A rumor Ragsdale sought to substantiate is whether Roosevelt ever uttered the words “Where in hell’s my tooth?” prior to one of his famed fireside chats in the 1930s and 1940s. Although CBS reporter Robert Trout, who covered these broadcasts, swears it never happened, Roosevelt’s son, James, told Ragsdale that his father often left the denture out and had to search for it.
It appears that President Ulysses S. Grant valued his dental health, because Ragsdale confirmed the story is true of Grant heading off for battle during the Civil War carrying nothing but a toothbrush. Sadly, Grant eventually lost his teeth and wore dentures, and on a world tour on the ship City of Tokio in 1877, he lost those, too. A ship steward accidentally tossed them overboard.
Dental care has come a long way, so take comfort in knowing that when it comes to your dental health, you need not follow in the footsteps of these three presidents. Daily brushing and flossing, routine checkups, professional teeth cleanings and fluoride treatments when necessary can keep you smiling.
Happy President’s Day!