Presidents of the United States
George Washington's Teeth

George Washington's Teeth
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.16

     challenging words:    calomel, grim-faced, herewith, mercurous, presently, pleurisy, scraper, port, smallpox, endure, lifetime, particularly, despite, extremely, wine, entire
     content words:    President George Washington, John Adams, Mount Vernon, Continental Army, John Greenwood, President Washington, George Washington

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George Washington's Teeth
By Joyce Furstenau

1     Did you ever wonder why President George Washington looks so serious in all his portraits? Some historians suggest it may have been because his teeth hurt.
2     Washington had a long history of illnesses. He had bouts with smallpox, pleurisy, malaria, flu, and possibly even rheumatic fever. Unfortunately, one of the most frequent 18th century treatments for illness was calomel (also called mercurous chloride). This medicine was supposed to help rid people of germs or "impurities" in their system. But if it was given in large enough doses, a patient could end up losing both his hair and his teeth. As a result, Washington took plenty of calomel because of his illnesses. Some historians wonder if the medicine was the cause of his bad teeth. No one knows for sure.
3     Washington actually took better care of his teeth than most colonists of that time. He brushed them daily using tooth powder as well as mouthwash. It is clear from his letters, diaries, and journals that his teeth were a constant problem. Washington was said to have told John Adams that his dental problems were a result of cracking too many nuts with his teeth. Washington's toilet set is presently on display at Mount Vernon. It contains a silver toothbrush, a tongue scraper, and a silver tooth powder case.
4     Washington lost his first adult tooth at the age of twenty-two. He was often in pain from toothaches. He either had inflamed gums, infected teeth, or dentures that did not fit properly. Tooth pain bothered him almost constantly while he commanded the Continental Army.
5     Some have suggested that his tooth pain might have been responsible for his bad temper. One can only imagine trying to endure painful discomfort for weeks at a time before another tooth had to be pulled.

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