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  • Washington's Smile Was Made Of Stolen Teeth on Random Things Of George Washington's Teeth Weren't Wooden At All - They May Have Been Teeth of Slaves

    (#1) Washington's Smile Was Made Of Stolen Teeth

    George Washington didn't usually smile in his portraits - and no, it's not because he had wooden teeth. That myth may have lasted so long because, like the cherry tree legend, it humanized the first president and made him seem like a common man instead of a very wealthy plantation owner who could afford the most expensive dentures available.

    But the myth hardly gets to the truth of the matter. Washington's dentures contained several materials, including ivory, but the at least some of the teeth themselves were likely actual human teeth. While it's impossible to say for certain if the Founding Father had the teeth put in his own mouth, he certainly purchased teeth from his own slaves on at least one occasion, and he probably had a specific reason why.

  • Washington May Have Paid For The Slave Teeth, But That Doesn't Make It Right on Random Things Of George Washington's Teeth Weren't Wooden At All - They May Have Been Teeth of Slaves

    (#13) Washington May Have Paid For The Slave Teeth, But That Doesn't Make It Right

    This possible explanation behind Washington's smile complicates our view of the Founding Father. The fact that there are no primary sources to verify that the purchased teeth and the ones Washington wore in his dentures were one and the same make it a little more difficult to figure out. It should be noted, however, that Washington did pay his slaves for their teeth. Records show that the general paid 122 shillings for the nine teeth he took in 1784, presumably for a tooth transplant. However, this was only a fraction of the going rate for teeth at the time: it was less than a third of what Le Moyer paid for teeth.

    Washington was also the only slave-owning Founding Father who set all his slaves free in his will. In spite of this, the fact that the revered first president of the United States not only owned slaves but also personally used their teeth reminds us of America's complicated histories of race and power.

  • The Market For Human Teeth Preyed On Poor People on Random Things Of George Washington's Teeth Weren't Wooden At All - They May Have Been Teeth of Slaves

    (#7) The Market For Human Teeth Preyed On Poor People

    Teeth only traveled one direction: from the mouths of the poor to the gums of the rich. As a dentist in York promised, she could "transplant teeth from the front jaws of poor lads into the heads of any Lady or Gentleman without putting both patients to any anguish."

    However, in the newly formed country of the United States, there were other sources of teeth: slaves. In 1782, one New York dentist refused to buy teeth from slaves, offering five guineas for healthy front teeth but adding "slave teeth excepted." Perhaps his theory was that wealthy white tooth-buyers wouldn't pay for slave teeth - or that the slave's owner wouldn't be happy if his "property" sold part of himself. 

  • People Who Couldn't Afford Live Teeth Could Always Buy Corpse Teeth on Random Things Of George Washington's Teeth Weren't Wooden At All - They May Have Been Teeth of Slaves

    (#10) People Who Couldn't Afford Live Teeth Could Always Buy Corpse Teeth

    Buying live human teeth was expensive, but there was a cheaper alternative: corpse teeth. The main source was dead soldiers on battlefields, and after Napoleon's 1815 defeat at Waterloo, which left thousands dead, they became known as Waterloo teeth.

    A rotten tooth might be pulled and replaced with a tooth from a dead soldier. Or, more commonly, corpse teeth were used to create dentures. But as one dentist pointed out "most people have a dread of teeth which have been obtained from a corpse." So those who could afford it purchased living human teeth - like Washington.

  • The Patient Came Face-To-Face With The Donor on Random Things Of George Washington's Teeth Weren't Wooden At All - They May Have Been Teeth of Slaves

    (#12) The Patient Came Face-To-Face With The Donor

    A tooth transplant was a gruesome procedure. The donor and the recipient would visit the dentist at the same time, sitting next to each other, as shown in a 1787 caricature by Thomas Rowlandson. The image shows a dirty chimney sweep selling teeth straight from his mouth to a dentist who plans to transplant them into the mouth of a wealthy woman. 

    After checking the impoverished donor for diseases, the dentist would pull the tooth and quickly implant it into the gums of the patient, tying the donor tooth into the mouth with silk threads or seaweed. Hunter emphasized the procedure had to be fast "as delay will perpetually lessen the power upon which the union of the two parts depends."

    In Washington's case, he was most likely present when his dentist yanked nine teeth from the mouths of his slaves for the Founding Father.

  • Dentists Paid Money For Human Teeth on Random Things Of George Washington's Teeth Weren't Wooden At All - They May Have Been Teeth of Slaves

    (#3) Dentists Paid Money For Human Teeth

    In Washington's day, many dentures included human teeth - for people who could afford them. Dentists like John Greenwood, the president's dentist, paid good money for human teeth. Greenwood posted an advertisement for "Live teeth," offering "a guinea each."

    One of Washington's other dentists, Jean Pierre Le Moyer, also bought human teeth. In 1783 he advertised in the New York papers for "persons disposed to sell their front teeth, or any of them." Le Moyer was more generous, promising two guineas per tooth. The same year, Le Moyer began treating Washington, and he likely performed the tooth transplant the general had in 1784. 

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The dentures worn by George Washington are not made of wood as in the legend. They are on display at the North Carolina Museum of History. In fact, George Washington has many sets of dentures, they are made of ivory, metal alloy, and the most incredible thing is other people's teeth, which may be from the slaves. These teeth were probably purchased from slaves at low prices, or in the best case, from extremely poor people.

The story of Washington’s teeth has caused controversy even in contemporary times, because of the legacy of slavery and the ongoing debate about the founding fathers. The random tool shares 13 things of George Washington's teeth.

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