Monday, February 20, 2017

Happy President's Day: George Washington's Teeth

Contrary to what you heard in grammar school, George Washington did not have wooden teeth. He did have dentures made out of a variety of materials including lead, gold, and brass, with teeth carved from ivory, hippo, and cow teeth. There were also some human teeth set into his dentures - other's and possibly some of his own. Some think that staining from red wine and foods in the tiny fractures of the fake teeth may have resulted in the wooden look of Washington's teeth. This rumor may also have come from the fact that his last dentist was a Dr. Greenwood. Washington gave Greenwood his very last real tooth, the only one he still had when he became president, as a gift when it, too, failed. Dr. Greenwood then wore this tooth displayed in a small glass case in a chain around his neck.

Sketch of Washington's dentures & dollar bill, ym
So what caused Washington’s devastating tooth loss?  Historical documents suggest he was particular about caring for his teeth to the point of obsession, and owned toothbrushes, tooth powders, tongue scrapers and other implements to clean his mouth. Still, he started losing his teeth in his twenties. By his own account, his tooth loss was caused by a bad habit of his youth - cracking walnuts with his teeth! The scar on his cheek is from an abscess that required draining, and in portraits of the president when he was older, there are obvious signs that the loss of his teeth had changed the look of his face.

Washington often complained that his dentures hurt and were ill-fitting and he was constantly in contact with dentists. A letter to his dentist that was intercepted by the British may have even changed the course of a battle. Because Washington directed his dentist to send him dental materials in New York, the British decided to not send troop reinforcements South.

Some historians speculate that Washington had a genetic disorder that affected his teeth.  He was tall compared to his family members and other men of that time. He also had other physical signs that indicate the possibility of a genetic defect. (Washington had no biological children of his own and was thought to be infertile - the children that he and Martha raised were from her previous marriage.) 

Washington suffered from many illnesses throughout his life including small pox, malaria and tuberculosis. He may even have suffered from metal poisoning from the medications he took or from materials, like lead, that made up his dentures. Indeed, the bloodletting that was used to treat his very last illness, epiglottitis (swelling of the cartilage that covers the windpipe when swallowing,) is suspected to be what actually caused his death at the age of 68 in December of 1799.

For more information about Washington, his teeth, and other fascinating facts about his life visit:,, and

This blog is for entertainment purposes only and not intended to treat or diagnose any medical or dental condition. Please see your dentist or doctor if you are having health problems. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

It's Children's Dental Health Month - Baby teeth matter!

It’s National Children’s Dental Health Month! Here are some facts about children’s teeth and tips for childhood tooth care:

 Baby teeth are important: Just because children lose their baby teeth, it does not mean “decay is okay.” Children need to have healthy, strong baby teeth to eat, speak, and smile.

Babies are born with their baby teeth already formed under the gums. This means that baby tooth care needs to start in infancy, before the teeth appear in the mouth! A baby’s gums should be gently wiped with a soft, damp cloth after drinking a bottle or eating. This gets baby used to his or her mouth being cleaned. As soon as the first little tooth appears, it can be brushed with a soft toothbrush using a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste.

Gum pain gels are not necessary and
can cause a rare but life-threatening condition called methemoglobinemia. It is better to let baby chew on a cold cloth or spoon if “teething.” This should relieve baby’s discomfort.

Always use a separate spoon to test baby’s food. Caregivers and parents spread their own mouth’s germs this way. This is especially important if a caregiver has cavities or gum problems.

Never put baby to bed with a bottle with formula, milk or juice. Don’t let a toddler walk around with a sippy cup with formula, milk or juice. These drinks are for meals. The sugar in them can destroy baby teeth pretty quickly. Children should only drink water between meals.
Lift the lip to check baby’s teeth at least once a month. White spots or lines near the gums may be the start of cavities. Baby teeth should be smooth and all one color. White, brown or black spots indicates cavities. If the teeth are being wiped or brushed daily, this should not happen.

Children start to lose their front teeth at about 6-7 years of age, so those front permanent teeth coming in are obvious. Not so obvious are the first permanent molars that erupt in the back of the mouth around the same age. If daily brushing and flossing aren’t already being done, that can hurt those teeth!

Flossing, too? Yes. While baby teeth usually have space between them that the tooth brush can reach, sometimes they don’t.
As soon as “teeth touch” they should be flossed to remove plaque germs that grow in between the teeth.

Baby teeth fall out over time and kids still have some of them until they are 12-13 years old. Baby teeth hold the space for the permanent teeth coming in.

Cavities are the NUMBER ONE chronic disease in children, more common than asthma. A cavity is a bacterial infection in a tooth!

Dental pain affects a child’s ability to learn and thrive. Dental emergencies cost parents and kids thousands of lost school and work hours. (Emergency room visits for dental issues cost Americans over $1.5 billion dollars in 2012!)

The cost of an amalgam (metal) filling can be well over $100 dollars - depending on how much of the tooth surface is affected, it can be much more. Composite (white) fillings cost even more. If a tooth needs to be “capped” it can run into thousands of dollars! Compare that to the cost of a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

Dental decay is preventable! Unless there is an underlying medical condition, cavities are caused by not brushing and flossing and eating or drinking sugar too often. A well-balanced diet helps the mouth and the body to stay healthy!

Preventing childhood cavities is so important and easy to do but young children need a hand. Pediatricians and dentists recommend the first dental visit by age one and that children up until age nine should have help and supervision while brushing.

c- ym 2017
Brush Morning & Night chart - ym 2017

This information is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition. If you think you or a loved one needs medical or dental treatment, please see a doctor or dentist right away!