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From George Washington to John Greenwood, 25 January 1797

To John Greenwood

Philadelphia 25th Jan. 1797.


Your letter of the 23d instt came to me this morning.1

The tooth that formerly went into the hole (that is now filled up) has been out many months; which was the cause for putting in the artificial one. If it was not sent with the rest, I know not what has become of it; nor is it material, as the one which supplies its place answers the purpose very well.

Not knowing whether you mean to make a new sett, or to repair the old, I must again caution you against adding any thing that will widen the bars on the sides, or extend them in front at bottom—They are already too wide, and too projecting for the parts they rest upon; which causes both upper, & under lip to bulge out, as if swelled—By filing these parts away (to remedy that evil) it has been one cause of the teeth giving way, having been weakened thereby2—I am Sir Yr very Hble Servt

G. Washington

ALS, DLC:GW, ser. 8.

On the verso of this letter, Greenwood signed the following statement, dated at New York on 20 Feb.: “The Within letter whas rote by General Washington in Answer to one I had sent him in request to know if the tooth which I have now in possession Was in fact his own natural tooth which was the onely one that remained in his head When I fixed him a Whole Compleat sett. And I am Well satysfied it is and have kept it in remembrance of him and as an Relic of so Great a Man. any one Who doughts its being his tooth by takeing it out of the socket of Which I Made for to keep it in they will find that the tooth has been Worne smaller in the root by the Artificial ones in such a manner as to Force it out of the Gumes. I Rite this on the back of this letter Expecting some person might wish to be satysfied of the Truth of My being in possession of such a Tooth.” The only natural tooth still in GW’s mouth from the beginning of his presidency was his lower-left premolar. It apparently fell out from the pressure caused by his extended use of false teeth (see Rebecca Tannenbaum, Health and Wellness in Colonial America [Santa Barbara, Calif., and Denver, Colo., 2012], 133).

2For the ill-fitting false teeth that GW sent to Greenwood for repair and for the protrusion of GW’s lips from the dentures, see GW to Greenwood, 20 Jan., and n.2.

In a letter to Greenwood of 7 Dec. 1798, GW wrote about the most recently repaired dentures: “What you sent me last answer exceedingly well; and I send the first to be altered & made like them, if you can” (Papers, Retirement Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends 3:245–46).

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