Were George Washington’s teeth really wood?
Actually, George Washington’s teeth probably were not wood, but the artificial gums that held them probably were. Varying stories exist, but the one that I think is probably the most accurate is that George probably had hand-carved wooden denture bases that had the teeth of dead battlefield corpses screwed into them. Yep, prior to modern times, grave robbers would often pull the teeth of the dead for the making of dentures!
A brief look into the history of esthetic dental materials is quite interesting. Bone, ivory, and actual teeth were used to replace missing teeth until Pierre Fauchard, considered to be the father of modern dentistry, applied jeweler’s enamel over a thin gold plate in about 1728. It wasn’t until 1756 that another French dentist by the name of Dr. de Chemant applied porcelain pottery making to make porcelain dentures.
Porcelain was first invented in China around 4000 BC. It was basically clay mixed with sand and then surfaced with a thin layer of glaze and allowed to dry in the sun. Hence, the synonym for porcelain today is “china.” During the Han and Tang Dynasties in China, kiln-firing, coloring, and translucency were developed to make very beautiful artifacts that have lasted for centuries. Marco Polo brought porcelain to Europe in about 1295 AD, and ornate Medici porcelain from Florence, Italy, because very popular. In 1770, America began to make porcelain in Philadelphia. Each time a different people began making porcelain, new techniques, properties, and ideas were born.
Today, porcelains are used in everything that makes our world tick from teeth to computer chips to space shuttle shells. In dentistry, the trend is to develop durable, reliable porcelains that mimic the esthetics of natural tooth enamel without having to have metallic support. During the past 10 years, CAD-CAM technology has been used to make all-ceramic crowns, inlays, and onlays that are as close to tooth color as is currently possible. Recently, a new type of porcelain base, called zirconia, has been developed which actually “heals” itself when a crack starts. Eventually, we will be able to place all-ceramic, metal-free restorations that are stronger and more durable than even gold. The race is on!