Monday, April 11, 2011

Live donor teeth (and George Washington)

Owen Ozier writes: "I have been reading Ron Chernow's 2010 biography of George Washington, and came across a passage about the trade in a different body part - teeth. I hadn't ever heard of this before, but it reminded me of your talk, so I thought I would send it along:

"From chapter 36 of Washington: A Life

"Always a tough, leery customer, Washington was skeptical about claims made for transplanted teeth. The following year, when Le Mayeur performed a successful transplant upon Richard Varick, it made a convert of Washington. According to Mary Thompson, Washington bought nine teeth in 1784 from certain nameless "Negroes" for thirteen shillings apiece.[7] Whether he wanted the teeth implanted directly in his mouth, or incorporated into dentures, we cannot say. However ghoulish this trade sounds to modern readers, it was then standard practice for rich people to purchase teeth from the poor. In his advertisements, Dr. Le Mayeur offered to buy teeth from willing vendors and bid "three guineas for good front teeth from anyone but slaves." [8] This suggests a stigma among white people about having slaves' teeth. We can deduce that Washington's dental transplant miscarried, since by the time of his presidential inauguration in 1789, he had only a single working tooth remaining."

Relevant references appear to be:
[5] Brown, Lawrence Parmly. "The Antiquities of Dental Prosthesis:
Part III, Section 2, Eighteenth Century." Dental Cosmos 76, No. 11, November 1934
[7] Henriques, Peter R. Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington. Charlottesville: UVA Press, 2006, p.154
[8] Unger, Harlow Giles. The Unexpected George Washington: His Private Life. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2006, p.163

(Kant also wrote about sale of teeth: see my earlier blog post Kant on compensation for organ donors )

1 comment:

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