Now that Joe Biden doesn’t have to wear a mask in public, I’m back to staring at his teeth.
Fact is, the last three presidents have elevated dental awareness to unprecedented levels. Whether cosmetically altered, artificially whitened or just naturally dynamic, teeth displayed by Obama, Trump and Biden have been downright mesmerizing.
In official portraits of presidents displayed by the White House Historical Association, none of the first 39 presidents revealed a single tooth. This was partly due to dental crookedness and discoloration, but also because portraits and photos were usually viewed as serious business, resulting in somber, tight-lipped poses.
The painting of Ronald Reagan, completed in 1991, is the first to show teeth – or, for that matter, any hint of a smile.
As for actual photographs, there is a famous shot of Teddy Roosevelt flashing two wide rows of teeth. Some called Roosevelt “the first president who smiled,” but he’s not smiling on the White House website. Images there show John Kennedy as the earliest president to bare his teeth, with chompers that look cartoonishly large. Jimmy Carter’s upper incisors were a magnet for cartoonists – among them four-time Pulitzer winner Herblock (Herbert Block), who famously drew Carter as the Cheshire Cat with a massive toothy grin.
Bill Clinton and both Bushes had teeth that appeared natural, or at least believable, and so for two decades the nation’s attention was diverted from matters dental.
But with President Obama we began wondering if anyone could possibly be blessed with such perfect pearls. In the White House photo gallery, Obama’s teeth are so prominent you hardly notice his ears.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden caused dental fixations to soar. With smiles sparkling and eye-catching, each man has been accused in news reports of having dentures – and faulty ones at that.
Trump gave a speech in December, 2017, that prompted New York Magazine to report, “It seems like he is trying to talk around his teeth while they slip from his gums.”
During the presidential campaign in September, 2019, the New York Post said in a headline, “Joe Biden struggles to keep his teeth in his mouth during Democratic debate.”
Dr. Joseph Mitchell, a Palm Beach dentist, has studied the Biden smile and concludes that the president’s restorations are in need of “more definition between the teeth; what we call ‘embrasures.’” He also suggests “more translucency at the edges, not opaque porcelain.”
Trump’s front teeth were analyzed by Dr. Jake Bateman of Kingsport, Tennessee. “I would guess the majority of them are veneers,” he explained. “The giveaway is how white and uniform the teeth are.”
Presidents have always had a thing about teeth.
Myth has it that George Washington’s false teeth were made of wood, but in fact they were fashioned from ivory and other precious materials.
Lyndon Johnson gave away electric toothbrush sets with the presidential seal on them.
Herbert Hoover had a dental exam room installed in the White House, which remains to this day.
Fastidious dental care might be the only remaining thing about which presidents from both parties agree. That’s something for pundits to chew on.