A Toothy Story

So, we’ve all heard of George Washington’s wooden teeth, right?

I stumbled across an interesting thing about the history of teeth in Richard Zacks’ An Underground Education. ( A very interesting book. Kind of like Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers -full of short articles you never knew you wanted to know.)

The article was about Washington’s hippopotamus ivory dentures. Filled with human teeth. Likely from dead soldiers.

Are we to the ewwwww factor yet?

An MSNBC story goes further and states: “The dentures are made from gold, ivory, lead, human and animal teeth (horse and donkey teeth were common components).”

And GoodTeeth.com has an article stating: “The upper and lower gold plates were connected by springs which pushed the upper and lower plates against the upper and lower ridges of his mouth to hold them in place. Washington actually had to actively close his jaws together to make his teeth bite together. If he relaxed, his mouth would pop open.”

This is cited by several articles to be the reason for George’s stern face and set jawline in all of his portraits.

Apparently it was pretty common practice to use animal teeth, as human teeth were so often in short supply, and artificial teeth were inferior. Some sources report that the grave robbers who supplied the corpses to colleges and other interested parties also supplied the dentists with teeth.

Then came the Waterloo Teeth. The battle of Waterloo was a bonanza for those that would rob a corpse of its teeth. So many teeth were taken they would be shipped or sold by the ‘barrel’.

Dentists supposedly would assure their clients that dentures were made from the ‘safe’ source of “Waterloo teeth’ whether or not that was where the teeth came from.

This was such a profitable venture that the teeth thieves would follow the wars and clean up after the battles.

Now there’s something you don’t see in the history books in school.

Are you ready for the part that really bothers me? I typed ‘stealing teeth’ into Google and found 14,900,000 results. Typical, right? Google returns results for things that don’t always match perfectly. If you try to get to that last page for the 14, 899,999th result, you generally cant get there. Well…I went through the first four pages of results without getting out of the 21st century news reports. I had to type much more specific terms like “Waterloo teeth”.

Fortunately we seem to have come a long way. All of the stolen teeth I could find were stolen for the gold fillings or were already dentures. But still…Ewwwwww.

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