How Wilbur Wright’s Front Teeth Changed the Future of Flight
The Wright brothers made history on December 17, 1903, when Orville Wright manned the first heavier-than-air aircraft across Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This plane was a realization of years of flight research, multiple glider designs, and plenty of failed attempts at flying. With this first successful flight, the Wright brothers paved the way for the transatlantic flights of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, and eventually for the invention of our modern commercial, military, and private aircrafts.
But what if Orville and Wilbur Wright had never designed their early airplanes? What if they never managed to fly at all?
Well, that was actually a possibility. Historians like David McCullough have traced the Wright Brothers’ fate back to an incident in their teenage years, during a game of ice hockey in the winter of 1885-1886. A neighborhood boy named Oliver Crook Haugh (who would, incidentally, grow up to become a notorious Midwest serial killer) hit Wilbur in the face with a hockey stick, knocking out most of his upper front teeth. It is unclear whether this hit was accidental or malicious, but it undoubtedly changed the course of Wilbur’s future.
Before his injury, Wilbur had plans to attend Yale and become a clergyman like his father, but the damage to his teeth and the resulting digestive and heart complications compelled him to remain home. Nevertheless, Wilbur studied. He was a voracious reader who gave himself a liberal arts education of sorts, setting the groundwork for serious flight research later in his life. It’s possible that if Wilbur had attended college as he intended, his life would have followed a drastically different path. He and his brother might never have invented the world’s first successful airplane.
The Negative Effects of Tooth Loss
Wilbur and Orville Wright changed history with their breakthroughs in flight technology, but Wilbur is known to have suffered in the preceding years due to his dental injury. For about eight years after the injury, Wilbur was described as isolated—a recluse. Unfortunately, Wilbur’s experience is consistent with what we know about the negative effects of tooth loss and dentures. Embarrassed of their smile, people who wear dentures often lack confidence in social, romantic, and professional situations.
In one study, 56.3% of adults with complete tooth loss reported aesthetic satisfaction “sometimes,” “rarely,” or “never" and 37% reported being nervous and unsure because of their teeth “often,” “very often,” or “always.” This sort of embarrassment may have contributed to Wilbur’s reclusive reputation.
Wilbur’s tooth loss may have also caused many health concerns, especially related to diet. People with tooth loss and dentures face difficulty consuming certain foods. Denture teeth cannot chew with the same force as natural teeth. This makes tough foods like steak, bagels, and fresh fruit or vegetables impossible to eat. Poor Wilbur knew this all too well. In John r. McMahon’s 1930 book, The Wright Brothers, Fathers of Flight, he identified that Wilbur was confined to a diet of liquids, eggs, and toast. That’s not exactly a well-balanced or nutritious diet.
Modern Tooth Replacement
In addition to these and other issues, Wilbur Wright didn’t even have the benefit of our modern dental treatments. He had to tolerate the treatments and technologies available in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, Wilbur lost his teeth shortly before the invention of x-rays and radiographic imaging, and long before the first osseointegrated dental implants were placed. Wilbur likely wore a partial denture to replace his front upper teeth.
Nowadays, we can restore missing teeth with dental implants and full arch restorations like All-on-4. The titanium dental implants we use bond with your jawbone to act like the root of a natural tooth. This means people can eat what they want and smile with confidence, even after tooth loss. Just as the commercial airplanes and private jets of the present day barely resemble the Wright brothers’ initial airplane designs, tooth replacement technology has evolved to more comfortable and functional restorations. If you are suffering with tooth loss or dentures, schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you.
Feature Image (Photo: John T. Daniels [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)