When Washington was inaugurated in 1789, he had only one tooth left in his mouth. He had experienced dental problems for most of his life, and the replacements available were a source of constant stress and pain.
WERE THEY MADE OF WOOD?
The surviving complete set of his dentures include a spring assembly to keep them suspended open. So he had to constantly clench his jaw to keep his mouth shut.
BUT WERE THEY WOOD?
They bulged out and changed the shape of his face. On the dollar bill, you’ll see this puffiness. It’s the same on Gilbert Stuart’s famous unfinished portrait. The dentist who made his dentures was John Greenwood. When Washington’s final surviving tooth was pulled, it was gifted to Greenwood, which he kept in a small container on his watch chain.
THE WOOD! WERE THE REPLACEMENTS WOOD?
Wooden dentures were developed early on in Japan, and continued to be manufactured until the early 18th century. Only the first wooden dentures were entirely wood. Modeling was done in beeswax.
Were Washington’s dentures wood? Were they cut from off his old cherry tree? No. Over the course of his life he has several sets, but the materials used ranged form human and cow teeth to elephant and walrus ivory. While Washington would never leave home without his tooth scrapers and brushes, the ivory used would stain easily giving them the look of a wooden grain.