Historic Tooth? Businessman Seeks Whole Truth

A mysterious gold tooth in the possession of an entrepreneur may have belonged to a historical figure, whose shadow haunts the annals of World War II history.

‘A Date Which Will Live in Infamy’

gold tooth photo
Photo by frau-Vogel. A gold dental crown similar to that found by a group who explored the crash site of Isoroku Yamamoto.

Isoroku Yamamoto rose to the rank of admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and during World War II he was commander of its combined fleet. Though Yamamoto openly opposed Japan’s pact with Nazi Germany and expressed reservations about engaging in war with European nations and the United States, he orchestrated the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

When, about a year-and-a-half later, codebreakers identified Yamamoto’s whereabouts and travel plans in the South Pacific, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered U.S. forces to strike. Yamamoto’s plane was shot down following a brief dogfight over what is today Papua New Guinea. His body was recovered from the jungle by Japanese troops and returned to Tokyo.

But the search party may have overlooked a tiny, tooth-size detail: a gold dental crown.

The Dental Crown Jewel

Dick Portillo is a former restaurateur (he sold his Chicago-based chain of namesake diners two years ago for almost $1 billion) with a passion for World War II history. Portillo is particularly interested in the Pacific theater of the war, and last year he was part of an expedition to the Yamamoto crash site on the island of Bougainville.

After a grueling trek, as detailed in a recent Chicago Tribune article, Portillo and company found the wreckage of Yamamoto’s plane. One group member, a former college professor named Anderson Giles, noticed something shining amid the mud and plucked out a gold false tooth.

The tourists turned the tooth over to the local tribe that owns the land where the wreckage rests, and Portillo later agreed to purchase the tooth and pursue testing to see if it indeed belonged to Yamamoto.

The Moment of Tooth?

Yamamoto reportedly received two bullet wounds, one to the lower-left shoulder and another to the lower-left jaw. It was the latter injury that piqued the history buff in Portillo and Giles in regards to the gold tooth.

Early analysis has shown that the tooth was removed by traumatic force, and according to the Chicago Tribune report, one dentist with particular experience in Asian dental work said the crown’s design is similar to those that would have been typical in Japan during Yamamoto’s lifetime.

Efforts at further analysis—including potential DNA testing—are ongoing, but it is not known if Yamamoto’s dental records exist, and his body was cremated within days of its discovery. He was also not the only occupant of the plane; 11 other men died either during the shootout or as a result of the crash. If the tooth is verified as Yamamoto’s, Portillo said he would give it to the Japanese government.

“I don’t care if I keep the tooth, you know what I mean?” he told the Tribune. “The value to me is the fun … and history.”

Austin cosmetic dentist Dr. Dan Matthews has a history of helping patients restore and maintain beautiful, healthy smiles. If you’re considering restorative or cosmetic dentistry treatment, please call Dan Matthews, DDS, at 512-452-2273 or contact us online to schedule your consultation at our Bee Cave Road office.

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