Presi-dental Health: 3 Historical Tooth Tales

From the myth about President George Washington’s wooden dentures to the alien conspiracy theory surrounding President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s emergency crown, commanders in chief have quite the history with their teeth. Here are three more fascinating facts about past presidents and their connections to dental health.

President Abraham Lincoln
Photo: Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln Was Embalmed By a Dentist

Most Americans know Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while watching a play at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, but did you know he was embalmed by a dentist? Dr. Charles De Costa Brown was originally a physician who moved to New York to study and practice dentistry, according to the November 1994 Bulletin of the History of Dentistry. He took an interest in embalming and was appointed an official government embalmer during the Civil War. Brown went on to establish an embalming office in Washington DC and cared for the body of Lincoln’s son Willie, who died three years before his father.

Days after his death, Lincoln’s body began a 1,600-mile journey from Washington DC to Springfield, Illinois. Public viewings of the body were held in major cities. Brown traveled with the president’s body, re-embalming him when necessary.


Photo: Library of Congress

Ulysses S. Grant Carried a Toothbrush Into Battle

Legend has it that during the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant went into battle for six days with no other baggage but a toothbrush. Unfortunately, his later affinity for cigars took a toll on his mouth and his overall health. Our 18th president was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1884 and died the following year.

Today, oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue (pharyngeal) strike approximately 40,000 a year. Learn more about the risk factors.


President Teddy Roosevelt
Photo: Library of Congress

The Story Behind Teddy Roosevelt’s “Walrus” Mustache

Abraham Lincoln’s signature style was a stovepipe hat. Teddy Roosevelt’s was a mustache. “As he approached early adulthood, TR made a conscious decision to grow a ‘walrus mustache’ to cover his prominent, but attractive set of teeth,” states an article in the Fall 2007 Journal of the History of Dentistry.

Still, that didn’t stop people from referring to his “squirrel teeth”, as seen in a 1903 newspaper article. The article reads: “When President Roosevelt was in Sharon Springs, Mo., a countryman stepped up and said to a member of the presidential party:’ Whar’s the President?’

Mr. Roosevelt, scenting something good, said: ‘Do you wish to see him particularly?’

‘I never seen but one president in my life, an’, of course, I would like to see him on gen’ral principles,’ replied the countryman. ‘But what I wants to see this one fur mos’ particular is to see if he’s got them squirrel teeth the papers say he has.’

And then and there the president displayed his ‘squirrel’ teeth in the broadest of grins. ‘Gosh, ter blazes, you’re the feller,’ said the man as he hurried away.”

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