Presidents Day and Presidents Week comes along but once per year in the month of February. We here at Morris Park Dental take pride in our American freedoms and the choice to choose to have a great smile! In the Bronx you always have to look your best and a winning smile gives off confidence and shows your good health. Sometimes though, problems come up and one needs to have their teeth taken care of in one way or another. If dental implants aren’t for you, then perhaps dentures might be the way to go.
One of the most famous early denture wearers was the first U.S. President, George Washington. Contrary to popular belief, Washington’s dentures were not made of wood. Washington sported some of the highest quality false teeth of the time, consisting of a denture plate made of carved hippopotamus ivory into which human teeth, along with parts of both horse and donkey teeth, were fitted. Around 1774, the French Alexis Duchâteau crafted the first porcelain dentures. But these were prone to chip and also appeared too white to be convincing. They would also stain easily due to the large tea and tobacco consumption of Europeans of the time. Human teeth, or “Waterloo teeth”, named for dead soldiers’ teeth plucked from the battlefield after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, were in higher demand. Waterloo teeth were riveted into the base of animal ivory, similar to modern day dentures.
In 1820, a Westminster silversmith and goldsmith named Claudius Ash was asked to craft new and improved dentures. At the time, most false teeth were still made from ivory, which was prone to discoloring, or from human teeth. The real teeth were extracted from soldiers’ corpses or recently executed criminals, procured by grave robbers, or even obtained from direct sale by the desperately poor. Claudius Ash mounted porcelain on 18-karat gold plates, with gold springs and swivels. These new dentures were superior both aesthetically and functionally to the older models. From the 1850s onward, dentures continued to improve and were made of Vulcanite, a form of hardened rubber into which porcelain teeth were set. Claudius Ash’s company was the leading European manufacturer of dental Vulcanite. In the 20th century, acrylic resin and other plastics became materials of choice. These same components are used today in dentures.
Also, in honor of Presidents Day, some interesting stories of the dental histories of some famous US Presidents will be told. One might be surprised to learn what some of our presidents had done to their teeth in the dentist chair.
The legend of George Washington’s false teeth are as renowned as he was. Poor George Washington never told a lie, but tradition, as well as historians, have encouraged this story for generations. Contrary to popular belief, our First President never had dentures made of wood; they were made of ivory. This then begs the question, why did he look so stern in all his portraits, when he had the best possible teeth to show off? Well, it’s because many of his dentures were ill fitted, which distorted his lips and would have looked awkward while smiling. Washington’s dental problems could also be credited with the victory at Yorktown. The British general Sir Henry Clinton had intercepted a letter from Washington to his dentist in Philadelphia, requesting that teeth cleaning supplies be sent to his headquarters near New York because he didn’t think he would make it to Philadelphia any time soon. Upon reading this, Clinton was convinced that Washington was not going to march south to attach Lord Cornwallis, so he remained in New York. This allowed Washington and his army, along with the French reinforcements to encircle Yorktown, without having to worry about Clinton’s army in New York.
John Adams apparently neglected to do his twice-yearly dental checkups, leading to him too losing most of his teeth. He also started smoking when he was just 8 years old. Those two issues combined might have been what caused him to lose all his teeth, not to mention the lack toothbrushes or the standard hygiene techniques of today. He refused to wear fake ones, resulting in a lisp when speaking.
President Lincoln was rarely photographed smiling with his teeth. It’s rumored that Lincoln had a phobia of going to the dentist, well justified it seems given the rudimentary methods used by dentists then, which started when a dentist mistakenly broke off part of his jawbone while extracting a tooth, all without any anesthesia. After this incident, Lincoln used chloroform to self-medicate on future dental visits.
People were astonished to find out that President Woodrow Wilson had such horrible teeth after seeing his picture taken during his 1913 inauguration. Wilson didn’t obtain dentures during his presidency, but his famous bad teeth represent the dental issues many of the presidents had. Interestingly enough, poor dental hygiene has been suspected to increase the risk of strokes, which President Wilson suffered from later on in his presidency. His bad teeth and infrequent dentist trips could have contributed to his near fatal stroke, which he suffered in his second term in 1919.
Here’s just a little history of the myths and realities of many of the US president’s smile. With the advances in dentistry, hopefully current and future US presidents won’t suffer the same fate as our presidents of years gone by.
The first sets of false teeth were discovered in Japan dating back several thousand years ago, but the practice of using false teeth to improve a smile isn’t limited to Japan. They used animal, and sometimes dead human’s, teeth to solve the problem of rotted away teeth. Also, around 700BC, Etruscans in northern Italy made dentures from human and animal teeth. Although these early forms of dentures would deteriorate quickly, either because of poor maintenance by the previous owners or the weak plate dentists used to hold the teeth, dentures like these continued to be made this way because they were easy to produce and remained popular until the mid-19th century.
Dietary changes in Europe forced denture makers to rethink artificial teeth. Sugar was the main culprit in increased tooth decay during the 18th Century because of the vast amounts of it coming from the East Indies, making it cheap, where before only the wealthy could afford it. With everyone in Europe using sugar on a regular basis, coupled with the lack of real dental hygiene, most people for cavities and their teeth rotted. With the industrialization of modern Europe, between 1860 and 1890, Britain’s sugar consumption per ca-pita increased 500 percent. Ivory dentures became popular in the 1700s, made from natural materials including walrus, elephant, or hippopotamus, becoming the new replacement for teeth in dentures, rather than teeth from dead corpses or animals.
Be like a President! Call our Morris Park Dentist office and request a dental appointment and free consultation for dentures as soon as possible. Call 718-DR-SMILE (718-377-6453) today to find out more about Dentures In The Bronx.