Brett lives in New Mexico and desperately wishes he had a better story about why he lost most of his teeth by age 42. The truth is that smoking cigarettes played a large part in ruining Brett’s natural smile. His mother was dentist, so he had good dental care as a child and saw a dentist regularly as an adult. However, Brett smoked about a pack a day, starting in high school.
By his mid-30s, Brett had gum disease—a danger for all smokers. Because of his gum disease, the tissues and bones holding Brett’s teeth in place were breaking down. During each visit, his dentist asked, “Are you still smoking?”
Around age 40, Brett started losing teeth. Two years later, he learned that 16 more teeth needed to come out, including all of his front teeth—both top and bottom. After surgery, while his mouth and gums were still healing, Brett continued to smoke. “There I would be, standing outside having a cigarette. I was still completely addicted and in denial, even after I lost a bunch of teeth,” he said.
It took awhile to learn how to talk correctly with partial dentures—and talking was Brett’s business as a radio personality. “It’s almost like having a really big wad of gum in your mouth, except it’s hard. And it’s plastic. And it’s not supposed to be there.”
Brett has now been smokefree for 4 years. After trying to quit smoking several times, he finally did it with the help of nicotine patches. He now knows that he can’t smoke even one puff, or else he could relapse. “Life is so much better without smoking,” Brett says. “You’re not constantly thinking about your next cigarette.”
Brett started smoking at age 16 to impress a girl who worked as a waitress at a late-night diner. He continued to smoke for about 30 years. “I still remember smoking, but not the name of that waitress!” he said.
Since his surgery, it’s been hard for Brett to accept the way he looks, with only 12 real teeth left. Brett puts his false teeth in first thing in the morning—and he takes them out in the dark, just before going to bed. He doesn’t want his wife to see the empty spaces in his mouth where he used to have teeth.
Brett hopes that sharing his story will convince smokers to quit as soon as possible. “My wake-up call was losing most of my teeth,” he says.
Brett, 49, New Mexico; smoked and lost most of his teeth to gum disease