Letter to the Editor

Our first president's dental problems

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dear Editor,

Our first president, George Washington, had an iron constitution and legendary physical strength, but diaries in his later life refer to his inflamed gums, lost teeth and ill-fitting dentures.

The February 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine, p.p. 18-19, features a story by Daniel Stone. In it, veterinarian David Fagan states that elephants live to a remarkable age of 70 years due to their teeth.

Their teeth develop at the back of their mouth and then move forward. Unlike their chewing teeth, their tusks are not replaced.

An African elephant eats 400 to 600 pounds of vegetation daily. Asian elephants consume 300 pounds daily.

To process their food, elephants need to chew constantly. They wear down each tooth until it falls out.

Most other mammals have two sets of teeth in their lifetime. Human beings also have two sets.

Elephants have six sets (One tooth on the top and one on the bottom.) They last about three years when an African elephant is young. They can last for more than 10 years later in life.

An elephant's teeth are not like human teeth, which sprout from the gum line. An elephant's teeth start at the back of the mouth and move forward like a conveyor belt.

This is an effective thing until there aren't any teeth left. Then the elephant dies from starvation.

Fortunately, Washington did not die of starvation. He wore numerous full- and partial- dentures made of various materials including bone, human teeth, hippopotamus teeth, brass screws, lead and gold metal wire.

Patriot Paul Revere, a silversmith, made dentures for Washington out of silver.

The Boston Gazette and Country Journal printed an ad Aug. 20, 1770, featuring partials made by Revere. It said he could fix teeth as well as any surgeon dentist.

Helen Ruth Arnold,

Trenton, Neb.

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