Growing Nation, Shrinking Jaw

bone resorption

How George Washington’s dental problems affected his presidential portraits

Written by Allison Russell, Feature Image SourceThe first president of the United States is known for many heroic feats. He crossed the Delaware, won the war, and retired from office after two terms, setting a precedent for the transfer of power that would endure to the present day. And the founding father did it all while suffering from serious dental problems. In fact, one of the most pervasive myths about George Washington is the rumor that he had wooden teeth.It’s true he suffered from tooth loss and constant oral pain, but Washington’s dentures were probably made of ivory and metal—not wood. The mercury oxide used to treat Washington’s illnesses early in life likely caused the damage to his teeth that would lead to his edentulism, though there might have been other factors.The pain and inconvenience of Washington’s dental problems plagued him from the time he lost his first tooth at age 22. When he became president at age 57, he only had one natural tooth left in his mouth. Washington actually suffered from another esthetic side effect in addition to the discomfort of his dentures and his lingering oral pain.shrinking jaw washington paConsider two of Washington’s presidential portraits. Both were painted by Gilbert Stuart, one in 1795 and the other in 1803. Not only does Washington visibly grimace from his oral pain, but his face shape changes drastically over these eight years. The president’s vertical dimension of occlusion (VDO), or the distance from his nose to the tip of his chin, has been reduced. This altered his facial proportions and made his chin appear shorter.

 Tooth Loss and Bone Resorption

When teeth are lost, the supporting jaw bone naturally shrinks without the friction of tooth roots. Dentures make the problem worse by wearing down the ridge of the bone with occlusal pressure. Even though we don’t use mercury oxide to treat malaria or small pox anymore, the extreme bone resorption that George Washington experienced is still common in people who have lost most or all of their teeth. Many people who wear dentures experience an apparent collapse of the lower third of their face. Fortunately, modern implant dentistry has a solution for bone resorption: osseointegrated dental implants.

Your Dental Solutions in Washington, PA

Osseointegrated dental implants act like the root of a natural tooth. They provide the necessary friction and stimulation to prevent bone resorption. Plus, your winning smile will be restored by replacing the tooth with a crown. The sooner an implant is placed after tooth loss, the less bone reduction is expected to occur.Whether you need to replace one tooth or many, osseointegrated dental implants can help you maintain your VDO. Even if you have experienced some bone resorption, an All-on-4 restoration can reinstate your original VDO. This reverses years of your jaw shrinking and diminishes a "sunken" appearance.If you’ve lost teeth and you’re worried about your VDO, contact Dr. Krakora’s team to learn about your restorative options.

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