Macro detail of George Washington's face on the US one dollar bill.

Wooden Teeth and More: The History of Dentures

These days, it’s fairly easy to get a replacement for a missing tooth. From dentures, partials to bridges and implants, you have plenty of options to fill the gaps in your smile. But that wasn’t the case just a few years ago. In years past, people had to resort to extreme measures to replace teeth and yes, it was quite common to use wooden teeth back then.

Read on to learn the fascinating history of dentures and some of the unique materials people have used to replace teeth.

The First Dentures

The Ancient Egyptians were the first to use incorporate dentures into daily life in 1,500 B.C. These first dentures were made from human teeth threaded together with gold wire. Beginning in 700 B.C., Italians began using animal teeth to replace their own. Indigenous tribes in Mexico did too, replacing their missing teeth with wolf teeth. The tooth was simply inserted into the space where the natural tooth was once located. Ancient Mayans replaced missing teeth with carved stones, bits of bone or even seashells. The process worked well, too. These materials would fuse with the patient’s jawbone for a permanent fix.

Wood Dentures

If you know much about George Washington, you’ve probably heard of wooden teeth. The Japanese are credited with using the first wooden dentures. A priestess who lived in the Kii Province wore then first wooden teeth. This style of denture was used up until the 19th century.

George Washington’s Dentures

Contrary to the popular myth, George Washington didn’t wear wooden dentures. He actually wore ivory dentures made from hippopotamus tusks. Other types of ivory dentures were also popular during this period. They were made from walrus, hippo or elephant tusks. Many people wore ivory dentures, even though the material deteriorated quickly. In fact, these types of dentures were still being worn in the early 1800s.

Dentures in the 1800s

In the 1800s, sugar consumption skyrocketed in Europe, especially in England. That led to many people losing many of their teeth by the age of 50 and needing a way to replace them. In a morbid turn of events, the teeth from soldiers who died during the Battle of Waterloo were used as replacements. Teeth were pulled from cadavers and mounted onto a base of ivory. These teeth were in high demand and actually became a status symbol among the elite. Because of their popularity, grave robbers would steal teeth from the dead to sell, and sometimes poor people sold their teeth for money.

Porcelain Dentures

The first pair of porcelain dentures were developed in 1774 by a British physician.  Porcelain teeth looked unnaturally white, and they chipped very easily. In 1820, a silversmith mounted porcelain teeth onto gold plates with springs and swivels, which allowed the teeth to work more efficiently and naturally. In effect, this was the first modern set of dentures.

Modern Dentures

Porcelain was very expensive, and most people could not afford to wear this type of denture. An alternative made from hardened rubber was created in the mid-1800s. This type of denture became very popular and widely utilized by people from all walks of life until the 20th century when acrylic resin became the norm.

The Beginning of Dental Implants

While dentures are still widely used, dental implants are becoming a favored way to replace a missing tooth. Implant technology began in the 1950s when a Swedish orthopedic surgeon realized that bone would fuse to titanium rods, creating a virtually unbreakable bond. Today’s dental implants have come a long way since then, but the technology is vastly different from tooth replacement methods of the past.

While it’s true that wooden teeth, false teeth, and dentures have been a part of the human experience for millennia, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in your future. Take good care of your teeth now so you can keep your natural teeth well into your golden years.

Make an appointment today, and let Artistic Touch Dentistry keep your teeth and gums healthy. Contact us to make an appointment with your Melbourne, Florida dentist at our convenient West Melbourne location.