Our Founding Fathers and Their Dental Care
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Our Founding Fathers and Their Dental Care

It's already July - the month of our nation's independence! So we thought we'd talk a little about the dental care our Founding Fathers would have received, as well as settle a few misconceptions once and for all!

George Washington did not have wooden dentures

This has always been a fun "fact", but as it turns out, George Washington actually did not have wooden dentures! It was a helpful rumor, though, as it made George seem like a more relatable, salt-of-the-Earth kind of guy. However, the truth is still pretty interesting- George's dentures were made of hippopotamus ivory! If you're interested in seeing them yourself, they're currently on display at the National Museum of Dental History is Baltimore, MD.

Hippopotamus teeth weren't Washington's first attempt at improving his smile

Interestingly enough, George Washington was one of the first people in the brand new country of America to have teeth implanted. But strangely, and sadly, he had them pulleddirectly from the mouths of healthy adult slaves and then transplanted into his own. This technique wasn't very well thought out and was very ineffective. The teeth lasted just a couple of months before his hippopotamus ivory dentures were commissioned.

Some scary common dental practices

In the early 1700's, "barber surgeons" performed most dental procedures. These jacks-of-all-trades would remove teeth, and perform minor dental surgery in addition to cutting hair, applying leeches and embalming the deceased. Finally, towards the end of the century, real dental practitioners migrated to the American colonies and refined the practices of removing diseased teeth and creating dentures.

In the 1800's, a few of the procedures included extracting teeth with a turnkey (which was a primitive tool, kind of like a ratchet wrench), cleaning the teeth with scrapers and removing cavities with hand instruments. The materials that were used for fillings included tin, lead, silver and gold foil. Dentures were hand carved from ivory or the teeth of cattle. 

Benjamin Franklin's mercury pills

Benjamin Franklin has always been revered for his wisdom. However, later in his life he made some less than wise health decisions. As he aged, Ben Franklin contracted gout and kidney stones. As an attempt to cure the kidney stones, Franklin took mercury pills for a month, losing several of his teeth in the process!

Lucky for us, dentistry has come a long way since our Founding Fathers and their hippo teeth! Enjoy your 4th of July and don't forget to stop by for a cleaning!

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