Archive for the ‘dental care’ Category

George Washington wanted a Root Canal Therapy

July 19, 2010

I recently visited the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA where there was an exhibit about George Washington (it will be there through July), and I was inspired by how much modern dentistry could have helped good old George.  This is part two of a four-part series about how America’s first President would have benefited from modern dentistry.  This time we’ll be delving into how we could have saved George Washington’s teeth instead of taking them out (without anesthesia). 

As Stated in our last post, denstists of Washington’s day used a “fire fighting” approach, where if a problem announced itself (usually as pain), it was then taken care of.  Modern dentistry has taken on a preventive approach.  In this approach we are looking for small problems and fixing them before they announce themselves.  Let’s talk about the different options available.

1700's American Denture worn by George Washington

Compliments of the National Dental Museum in Baltimore

The National Dental Museum in Baltimore has a fantastic Presidential Collection with artifacts from George Washington on display.

With the advanced diagnostic techniques available, today we are able to diagnose decay at its earliest stages now and manage decay effectively with minimal to no pain.  If George had visited a modern dentist like those at Chips Dental Associates, he would have had access to DiagnoDent©, where we would have screened the grooves of his back teeth for the earliest signs of decay.  When decay is found at this early stage, it can be treated with the smallest restoration possible using modern tooth colored resins.  These restorations can actually serve to strengthen the tooth and with regular care and maintenance, may be all that ever needs to be done on it. 

George Washington would also have had access to regular periodontal screenings and maintenance.  These would have caught any signs of periodontal disease at an early stage and steps could have been taken to minimize its effect on his dentition.  By diagnosing this disease at an early stage, most of the time it is possible to treat it non-surgically and keep the patient on a maintenance program where they have cleanings and periodontal screenings at every visit.  This step would have helped George Washington to avoid losing any teeth to this disease.

When decay became more advanced, 18th century Americans were occasionally fortunate enough to have a dentist place fillings.  While fillings were a part of the 18th century dentist’s repertoire, they were time consuming, expensive, had a relatively low success rate.  The technique called for the drilling out or cleaning out of the cavities and placing a material (usually a metal such as gold or even tin) into the space to keep it from becoming sensitive.  This was executed without local anesthesia.  Unfortunately, not many 18th century dentists placed fillings and when decay reached the pulp, the modern root canal therapy was not an available option. George Washington would probably not have had access to dental fillings as they were a more popular treatment in France during his lifetime.

The modern root canal therapy was developed within the last 100 years and has changed the face of dentistry from a philosophy of extracting teeth and putting in dentures to one of saving and restoring teeth with modern scientifically proven materials.  According to John L. Santopolo, an endodontist (root canal specialist) in Long Island, NY, the oldest theories regarding the birth of the root canal therapy date back to the second or third century BC.  A skull with a bronze wire inside one of its teeth has been studied and researchers suggest that this may have been used to treat an infected pulp making it the first evidence of such treatment.  While George Washington may have had access to this treatment, it was uncommon in the 1700’s and most dentists would not have provided it as an option.

For the sake of our discussion, we’ll assume that even with our modern preventive dental model, George Washington got a toothache during his lifetime.  What would have happened?  If he had been going to his regular maintenance appointments, it is likely that his tooth could still have been saved.  He would have, most likely, wanted to have a root canal therapy, build-up (a type of filling to prepare a tooth for a crown), and crown.   By completing this sequence of treatment, he would have saved his tooth and with regular maintenance thereafter (including the occasional replacement of the crown), he would have been able to, most likely, maintain his tooth for the rest of his life.  So, going back to our title, if George Washington had known about it, he would have actually wanted not only a root canal therapy, but also a build-up and a crown.

Coming next, local anesthetics, bridges, and dental implants.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

If it’s been a while since your last dental visit or you just want to get together to discuss our favorite historical character, visit www.chipsdentalLLC.com.

George Washington, what makes him smile?

June 15, 2010

I recently visited the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA where there was an exhibit about George Washington (it will be there through July), and I was inspired by how much modern dentistry could have helped good old George.   This is not Part II of this four part series about how America’s first President would have benefited from modern dentistry.  The second installment will be posted shortly but needs a few finishing touches. 

In Part II we’ll be talking about the measures available now through peer review medicine that allow us to treat dental patients differently and better than in colonial America.  These will include our basic fillings, crowns, and root canal therapies as alternatives to the extractions that were done a few years ago.  You’ll really come to appreciate the advances that modern dentistry has available to you now when you see what was done throughout history.  

Compliments of The Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA

This is a photo, compliments of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA, of George Washington’s dentures.  I think we can all agree that while this is interesting now, having these in your mouth as George did would hardly be something to smile about.  Go see them for yourself, they’ll be at the Heinz History Center through July.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

If it’s been a while since your last dental visit or you just want to get together to discuss our favorite historical character, visit www.chipsdentalLLC.com.

George Washington and Jerry Seinfeld

June 8, 2010

I recently visited the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA where there was an exhibit about George Washington (it will be there through July), and I was inspired by how much modern dentistry could have helped good old George.  This is part one of a four-part series about how America’s first President would have benefited from modern dentistry.  We’ll start with the basics, oral hygiene, regular periodontal maintenance (cleanings) and professional dental examinations.

In the early to mid 1990s The Seinfeld Show was running at its peak and it came to light that Jerry Seinfeld was an oral hygiene fanatic.  In fact he was so fanatical about his oral hygiene that the American Dental Association essentially made him the poster child for their preventive dentistry campaign.  There was actually a poster in our office with Jerry on it, the caption read “Look Ma, I flossed!”  How does this relate to George Washington? You may not believe it, but for the mid 1700’s, George was about on par with Jerry when it came to the care of his teeth.

As we mentioned in the last post, George Washington had a litany of dental problems and he had many sets of ‘not so wooden’ dentures. This may lead you to conclude that he was not as adamant about his oral health care as Jerry Seinfeld, but you would be mistaken.  George, like Jerry, was also a fanatic, having found from a young age that he had difficulty with his teeth. He had his first tooth removed at age 22.  He worked especially hard to maintain his oral hygiene, almost always owning a toothbrush (not the norm for the day).  His brush would have had boars hair bristles and would have been nearly as effective as those we use today according to Dr. Scott Swank curator of the National Dental Museum in Baltimore.  George also had an ongoing relationship with several dentists, he was always seeking out who was “the best.” This relationship was meant to handle any problems that arose with his teeth and to manufacture high quality, comfortable dental prosthetics (dentures and partials).  


This is Napoleon’s toothbrush made with horse hair bristles, it is very similar to George Washington’s boars hair toothbrush.  George’s toothbrush is on display the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA through July. 

In the 1700’s a regular periodontal maintenance program and professional dental exam were not part of a dentist’s repertoire.  For the mid 1700’s in America though, George Washington was the Jerry Seinfeld of oral hygiene.  Unfortunately for George, he didn’t have any of the advantages that we have today in preventive dentistry.  In addition, according to Dr. Scott Swank curator at the Smithsonian affiliate National Dental Museum in Baltimore, George Washington took a popular medicine called calomel (mercurous chloride) which would have been the major culprit in the destruction of his teeth through the years.  This medicine, was a sort of cure-all for the time.  It was given for many reasons sometimes as a laxative, sometimes as a soother for teething babies and for a variety of other reasons as well.  Research has since shown what a catastrophic effect calomel had on people’s teeth.

If George had access to a Sonicare or Oral B electric toothbrush, dental floss, Fluoride toothpaste, and even Listerine or Act mouth washes, his dental history would have been dramatically different.  Regular periodontal maintenance, dental x-rays, and oral cancer screenings would have also provided tremendous benefit.  These simple measures, which you most likely take for granted, would have made it possible for George Washington to restore (fix) his cavities when they were smaller, stabilize and maintain his periodontal status, and prevent the slow onslaught of destruction that oral disease wrought on him.  So we can all thank goodness that we’re in this fascinating modern era of dentistry with everything from x-rays to dental implants to local anesthetic (novocaine) helping us fight this ongoing battle with oral disease.  Chips Dental Associates takes advantage of many of the latest advances in modern dentistry that George as well as Jerry would appreciate. 

Next week we’re going to be touching on what might have been one of George Washington’s favorite subjects (had it existed then) the Root Canal Therapy.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

If it’s been a while since your last dental visit or you just want to get together to discuss our favorite historical character, visit www.chipsdentalLLC.com.

George Washington’s (not so) Wooden Teeth

June 1, 2010

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA.  They had a wonderful exhibit about America’s first commander-in-chief, George Washington.  What an interesting character he was, from the tender age of 19 he was an active part of American history and our local Pittsburgh history.  As a dentist, I was most captivated by what seemed to be the centerpiece (forgive my skewed point of view) of the exhibit, the litany of his teeth.    I was so inspired by how modern dentistry could have helped old George so dramatically in his lifetime that I’ll be changing the format of my blog for the next few weeks to talk about it.  Part One will be finished shortly, so bookmark my site!  In regards to the title here, it is a myth that George Washington had wooden teeth.  His teeth were made of many substances throughout his lifetime, but wood was never used for the teeth in George Washington’s dentures.