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The History Of Wooden Teeth (And Other Clever Dentures)

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Thanks to advances in modern dental care, the number of adults who need dentures is dwindling. For those who do, modern dentures are more comfortable and discreet than ever before. Today, dentures can even improve your smile. But what did our ancestors use to replace missing teeth? Read on to learn about the history and mythology of wooden teeth and how you can prevent the need for dentures in your own life.

The History of Dentures

According to The History of Dentistry, dentures date all the way back to 2500 B.C. when they were made from animal teeth. Centuries later, the ancient Egyptians and the Etruscans made dentures from bone, wire, and repurposed animal and human teeth.

Wood teeth have not been nearly as popular throughout history, though wooden dentures were common in Japan from the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century. During the 18th century, typical denture materials in Europe and the U.S. included human, animal teeth, and ivory. Hardened rubber became a popular base for porcelain teeth when it was developed in the mid-1800s, and early plastics such as celluloid and Bakelite replaced it soon after.

George Washington's Chompers

Former President George Washington is one of the most famous people known to have wooden teeth. According to the Mount Vernon Museum, he never had wooden teeth! He actually had dentures made of ivory, gold, and lead.

So, where did the wooden teeth myth come from? Historians theorize that Washington's ivory dentures became stained over time, making them look like wooden dentures.

Over his lifetime, he had several sets of dentures. Believe it or not, one still survives today. Some of Washington's teeth also came from a rather grim source. It wasn't uncommon for impoverished people in the 1700s to sell a few of their teeth for income.

Waterloo Teeth

A few decades after Washington's lifetime, people in Europe started wanting dentures like never before. So dentists' suppliers turned to grave robbing to find teeth, according to the BBC. Overall, dentistry in the early 1800s was broadly unregulated and sometimes dangerous. People also started consuming a lot of sugar and turned to barbers, doctors, jewelers, and even blacksmiths to get their teeth pulled out.

In 1815, professional tooth hunters turned to causalities from the Battle of Waterloo for their fresh supply of teeth, says the BBC. Looters sorted teeth to make matched sets for sale, and early dental professionals boiled and shaped them to fit into ivory dental plates. Luckily, by 1832 the British Anatomy Act made it unlawful to transport human bodies, and the popularity of human dentures began to decline.

How To Prevent Dentures

Today, we know that preventing tooth decay and the need for dentures is the way to go, no matter what they're made of. Practicing good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing daily helps prevent decay and the need for tooth extractions.

For people who wear full or partial dentures, having them made by a trained dentist ensures that they will be as comfortable and natural-looking as possible. Always use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean your dentures daily, just like your regular teeth. Also, make sure to clean your gums, tongue, and the roof of your mouth. And rinse your dentures to wash off any leftover food particles.

Now you know the history of dentures and how much we've advanced since the days of grave robbing and wooden teeth. Interestingly, people have been looking to replace their missing teeth for such a long time in our history. As we know now, it's much better to prevent the need for dentures than to get them. So, remember to keep your dentures bright and clean! That way, no one will mistakenly think you have wooden teeth like George Washington.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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