Posts Tagged ‘dentist’

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