A: Our first president was plagued with dental difficulties, losing most of his teeth to periodontal, or gum, disease while still in his 20s. Contrary to popular belief, though, Washington never had wooden dentures. They were made from gold, elephant ivory, hippopotamus tusk and human teeth. A set is on display at Mount Vernon, his Virginia home. Modern dentures are commonly made with acrylic and porcelain.
One of Washington’s dentists was a fellow named John Greenwood. In 1790, Greenwood adapted his mother’s foot-operated spinning wheel to create the first known dental drilling machine. Washington lost his teeth long before 1913, the year the phrase “dental hygiene” was coined in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Dr. Alfred Civilion Fones started a school of hygiene. The school remains in operation today as part of the University of Bridgeport. The earliest known reference to a dentist, by the way, dates to 2600 B.C. An inscription on the tomb of an Egyptian scribe named Hesy-Re calls him “the greatest of those who deal with teeth.” The practice of dentistry has come a long way.
Information provided by Dr. Steven Neville, Bondurant Family Dentistry, 100 Second St. N.E., Bondurant, 515-967-4002.