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Thomas Jefferson's memorandum books indicate that dental care was a regular part of his routine. When 81 years old, Jefferson reported to a friend that he had lost only one tooth by age, with "the rest continuing sound."1
PRIMARY SOURCE REFERENCES
1772 April 14. "Pd. Baker the dentist 30/."2
1772 April 27. "Pd. Mrs. Rathall for 6 tooth-picks 1/3."3
1776 November 10. "Pd. Baker the dentist 40/."4
1786 January 5. (Jefferson to David Humphreys). "I will therefore proceed to avail myself of your kind offer of executing commissions for me in London, and will pray you to procure for me the following articles. ... ½ doz. tooth brushes, the hair neither too strong nor too weak, without spunges. ½ doz. do. with the strongest hair, such as hog’s bristle, without spunges also. A silver tooth pick case, the smallest possible, such as you may have seen me use, if you should happen to have noticed mine. They cost about a dollar."5
1789 August 19. "Pd. Jourdan dentist 48."6
1793 November 13. "Pd. Gilliams drawing a tooth 4.66."7
1793 November 20. "Pd. Gilliams dentist 2.33."8
1803 March 5. "Pd. Bruff dentist 5.D."9
1805 January 14. "Inclosed to Dr. Bruff dentist 10.D."10
1807 December 29. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I was taken with a tooth-ache about 5. days ago, which brought on a very large & hard swelling of the face, & that produced a fever which left me last night. the swelling has subsided sensibly, but whether it will terminate without suppuration is still uncertain. my hope is that I shall be well enough to recieve my company on New Year’s day."11
1808 January 5. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "my fever left me the day I wrote to you, and the swelling abated through the whole face, but still remains in a knot as big as a pigeon’s egg, over the diseased tooth, which has now been suppurating so long that the Doctr. thinks he shall have to extract the tooth (altho’ perfectly sound) to prevent a caries of the bone."12
1808 January 12. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "my letters to your Mama will have informed you of my having been indisposed with a swelled face. it rose, suppurated, and has left me with a hard swelling still on the jawbone, which however I am in hopes will go down. it still confines me to the house for fear cold should affect it."13
1808 February 23. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "a small knot remains on the bone, which enlarged considerably on my riding out on a raw day lately. by keeping house a few days it is again reduced to a small size."14
1808 November 30. "Borrowd. of Le Maire 5.D. & pd. Dr. Bruff extractg. a tooth 5.D."15
1808 December 6. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I have been confined to the house these 3. weeks with a swelled face. for 4. or 5. days I suffered much, but was relieved by a suppuration & have since been able to extract the tooth. there is too much swelling still to go out, but I hope to be able to take my usual rides in 3. or 4. days more."16
- Brown III, Marley R. "Thomas Jefferson's Toothbrush." Colonial Williamsburg (Winter 1988-89): 12-13.
- Ragsdale, Jack S. "What Did Thomas Jefferson Mean by 'I have not yet lost a tooth by age.'" Journal of the American Dental Association 108 (April 1984): 643-44.
- 1. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 2. MB, 1:288.
- 3. MB, 1:289.
- 4. MB, 1:427.
- 5. PTJ, 9:152. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 6. MB, 1:742.
- 7. MB, 2:904.
- 8. MB, 2:905.
- 9. MB, 2:1093.
- 10. MB, 2:1144.
- 11. Family Letters, 317. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 12. Ibid., 319. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 13. Ibid., 321. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 14. Ibid., 330. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 15. MB, 2:1235.
- 16. Family Letters, 368. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 17. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online. Transcription available at Founders Online.