At age 50, Felicita went to the dentist to have one tooth pulled and learned that all her teeth needed to come out. She was a smoker and had severe gum disease. Felicita had already lost some teeth, but losing every last tooth in her mouth came as a terrible shock. Like many people with gum disease, she did not have a lot of pain as the disease got worse. But the tissues and bone structures holding her teeth in place were breaking down. On a sunny Florida day, Felicita’s dentist pulled out 23 teeth and fitted her for false teeth (dentures).
“It was very, very hard,” says Felicita. It took a month for her mouth to heal from surgery. She had to learn how to eat, drink, and talk all over again. Felicita doesn’t like the way her dentures fit, so she only uses the top set, and her mouth gets sore easily. She eats only soft foods or puts her meals in a blender—even lettuce.
Felicita doesn’t smile much anymore, now that she has dentures. “I don’t like the way people look at me,” she says. “I feel ashamed of myself, really. I feel like I destroyed my health and my appearance with cigarettes.”
Felicita thought smoking made her look cool when she started at age 12. She grew up in New York with a rich Puerto Rican heritage and many family members who smoked. In fact, her mother gave Felicita permission to smoke, as long as she paid for her own cigarettes. And so began 33 years of smoking. Felicita smoked about 1 ½ packs a day.
Life moved quickly: marriage; two children right away; work; two more children; and early health problems for her first husband, who was also a smoker. Felicita brushed, flossed her teeth, and saw a dentist regularly, but by her mid-30s, her gums were bleeding. At age 40, her teeth were loose, and one even fell out at home. While Felicita knew that smoking caused lung problems, she still didn’t realize that it greatly added to the problems in her mouth.
Felicita wanted to quit for many years, and when she was 45, she did it. But she smoked for more than 30 years and now had bad gum disease. The bleeding got worse, leaving stains on her pillow at night. One day at a work luncheon, a coworker whispered, “You’re bleeding,” with a look of disgust. Felicita hurried to the dentist, who said that all her teeth were damaged beyond repair and had to be pulled out.
Today, at age 54, Felicita loves being a nonsmoker. She can now keep up with her children on walks and takes dance classes. “I feel much better. I feel like I came back to life,” Felicita says. But she doesn’t like to eat out, where people sometimes stare at the way she slurps her food—and there’s a chance that her ill-fitting dentures could fall into her soup. She misses biting into pizza, corn, peanuts, apples, and the traditional pork dishes served at family gatherings. Felicita hopes that her story will help other people quit smoking.
Felicita, 54, Florida; lost all her teeth by age 50