Presidents have been an important part of our democracy, ever since the first election in 1789. As presidential history was recently made once again, let’s look back at some fascinating dental-related facts about a few of our past commanders-in-chief:
1. George Washington never wore wooden dentures. Tooth decay and tooth loss plagued George throughout his adult life. He had his first tooth pulled at 24 and had only one tooth remaining at inauguration. Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate, says his troublesome teeth made the president self-conscious and reluctant to speak in public. While it’s true he wore dentures, they were never wooden. He had many pairs made from different materials including: Hippopotamus tusk, elephant ivory, bone, gold wire, copper screws, lead, and even human teeth.
2. Abraham Lincoln was embalmed by a dentist. Dr. Charles DeCosta Brown was originally a physician who moved to New York to study and practice dentistry. He took an interest in embalming and was appointed an official government embalmer during the Civil War. Days after his death, Lincoln’s body began a 1,600 mile journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, IL. Public viewings of the body were held in major cities. Brown traveled with the president’s body, re-embalming it when necessary.
3. Ask what your teeth can do for you… You should never use your teeth as tools, but in this case, we definitely think it’s okay. John F. Kennedy’s first mission during WWII did not go well. While on patrol in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, his boat was destroyed. One of his crewman was badly injured and unable to swim, or even float. With heroic effort, JFK swam for five hours towing the crewman to safety, using only his teeth.
4. Ulysses S. Grant carried a toothbrush into battle. Legend has it that during the Civil War, Grant went into battle for 6 days with no more than a toothbrush he carried in his breast pocket. Unfortunately, his later affinity for cigars took a toll on his mouth and overall health. Our 18th president was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1884 and died the following year. Today, oral cancers and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue strike approximately 40,000 a year.
5. The story behind Teddy Roosevelt’s “Walrus” mustache: As Teddy approached early adulthood, he made a conscious decision to grow a “walrus mustache” to cover his very prominent, but attractive set of teeth. Still, that didn’t stop people from referring to them as “squirrel teeth.” This didn’t bother Teddy much, and surely didn’t stop him from smiling, as he was well known for his broad grins. Another Roosevelt with a tooth tale was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was actually missing his two front teeth. Though he was never photographed without his dental aid, his son reported that his father often misplaced it and spent a good deal of time trying to relocate it.
6. Brush twice a day and remember me… President’s often express their friendship and respect with gifts. Friends of Lyndon B. Johnson are known to have received electronic toothbrushes, complete with the presidential seal. Why toothbrushes? His response was that he wanted people to think of him right away when they wake up, and right before they go to bed.
7. Grover Cleveland had top-secret oral cancer surgery…on a yacht. Near the beginning of his second term in 1893, Grover faced 2 major issues. Nationally, the country was entering a depression. Personally, a bump in Grover’s mouth was diagnosed as being cancerous. To prevent nationwide panic, a clandestine plan was hatched. On June 30, Cleveland boarded a yacht in New York Harbor, along with 6 doctors. In a surgery preformed the following day, surgeons removed the cancerous tumor from his mouth, along with 5 teeth and part of his upper left jaw. Four days later, Cleveland got off the yacht in Cape Cod and finished recovering at his summer home. He was later fitted with a rubber prosthesis that helped him speak normally again.
8. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Dental emergency or UFO cover-up? On February 20, 1954, Dwight was eating chicken wings in Palm Springs, CA when the crown on one of his front teeth popped off. He spent his Saturday night at an emergency dental appointment, and the unexpected trip led to many false reports, including one that said he had died of a heart attack. It also birthed a UFO conspiracy, because many believed the dental visit was a cover up for a secret meeting between Eisenhower and aliens at Edwards Air Force Base.
9. The President doesn’t go far to visit the dentist. In fact, the dentist comes to him! In the early 1930’s, the Hoover administration set up the first dental office in the White House. President Barack Obama told Jimmy Kimmel he first learned about it when he thought he had a loose crown. “Got the whole chair- everything is all there, set up in the basement,” he said. The original office was little more than a dentist chair, but today it is as modern as any other dental office.
Thanks to the American Dental Association (ADA) for these interesting facts!