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George Washington's dentures

Careful measurements of Washington's false teeth yield clues to the shape and size of his face.

George Washington's dentures

Washington's storied dentures actually distorted his face, so it is difficult for scientists to get a true picture of what he might have looked like.

George Washington's dentures are storied. We now know that they weren't, for the most part, made of wood. They were fashioned of lead, wire, ivory, bone, and human and animal teeth. They were big, bulky, and uncomfortable. Many believe his dentures were the reason Washington is never shown smiling, and some believe they were the reason Washington was known for his reticence. Those dentures were an important part of the picture we have of Washington. In fact, there is no picture of Washington where he has all of his teeth.

That created a complicated problem in the attempt to de-age Washington. At nineteen, Washington had a full set of his own teeth. As he lost teeth during his life, he also lost bone in his jaw. When he used dentures, they distorted his face.

The Mount Vernon team has studied the available Washington dentures and mapped the interior volume of his mouth. They'll add the bone and subtract the facial changes brought on by the false teeth. Maybe then we'll be able to see Washington smile.

—Michael J. Lombardi


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