Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Maybe it's the sound of the drill

My number one biggest irrational fear in life is going to the dentist. Don't know why. I'm just scared. I can have a filling fall out, have the tooth start rotting away, have pain shooting up to my brain, and all I'll do is swallow an Aleve or two and hope it'll all get better.

I understand it's irrational. I can't even pinpoint a specific experience that made me fear dentists. It's just the way it is.

So, yeah, it's been a few years. But do you want to know what finally got me to make an appointment? My students.

In the run-up to the ACT (which is, gasp, tomorrow!), my classes were practicing writing persuasive essays. I threw every prompt I could find at them--from ACT prep materials, from the official ACT website, from old tests--and when I couldn't find any more, I made some up. One prompt I wrote turned into something of a hit, and lots of students wrote some pretty good essays. It was based on the recent findings that one in four teenage girls has an STD. The question I asked was, Should all teenagers be required to be tested for STDs at least once a year?

Surprisingly, about 95% of my students argued for the yes side.

With each essay, I like to photocopy a good example, pass it around, and have everyone discuss what worked and what didn't work. (This, by the way, is the single greatest strategy I have for the teaching of writing. Have them see a peer's essay, comment on it, and then fix their own errors.) The sample essay I showed off started something like this: Do you know the old saying "what you don't know can't hurt you"? In the case of STDs, this isn't true. What you don't know can hurt you, A LOT!

As we discussed the prompt and essay, of course someone had to ask me, "When's the last time you were tested for STDs?"

The class laughed, but I didn't mind answering. "I get tested every time I go to the doctor for a physical," I said. I don't mind answering personal questions like this because I want them to realize that it's OK to get tested. And that I'm human. They don't know that I don't really have many reasons to get tested these days, but I let them think I'm a "player" or whatever.

As we continued the discussion, somehow we got on the topic of fears. I admitted I was afraid of dentists. "In fact, I haven't been to one in a few years," I said. "I've got insurance. I'm an adult. But, I don't know, I'm just scared I guess."

Of course that led to a challenge: Go to a dentist.

And so I did. And I just got back. And, really, it wasn't that bad. I found a very gentle, very understanding dentist. He found a couple of cavities and a wisdom tooth that needs to go. And now I'm hoping that I find a way to turn this whole thing into a learning experience for my students.


Anonymous said...


rich the photo guy said...

Dentists should be added to the list of subjects NOT to speak about in polite conversation. (sex, religion, politics, & dentists)

Now I'm going to have nightmares about the dentist coming to get me.

appopt said...

bzzzz, indeed!

I won't hear that sound for another two weeks. My palms are sweaty already.

Here's something about perceptions from my dentist visit, now that I think about it: At one point, the dentist said something about me still being very young. At the time I thought, he's wrong, I'm already getting old. But later, I realized that I only think I'm getting old because I hang out with teenagers all day every day. And, wow, they can make you feel old fast. But in reality, I'm still very young, so I should take better care of my teeth, because they're still going to be around for a long, long time. Or something like that ...

actualmalice said...

I know a great dentist: Dr. Daniel Plainview. If you say he's a tooth man, he'll agree. He does his own drilling and the men who work for him, work for him. However, he hates people. (If you haven't seen "There Will Be Blood," then this reference is completely worthless and I apologize...)

actualmalice said...

I've just found a great dentist: Dr. Daniel Plainview. If you say he's a tooth man, he'll agree. But he does his own drilling and the hygienists who work for him, work for him. He's a family man and runs a family business...
(If you haven't seen "There Will Be Blood," then I apologize for this random reference...)

actualmalice said...

Bah! I hate it when I leave double comments! Anyway, I was also going to write that I haven't been to the dentist in two and a half years, mostly because I don't have insurance but also because I'm lazy and there's a little bit of fear thrown in there as well.

appopt said...

Wow! I actually have the There Will Be Blood DVD right next to my keyboard right now ... But I fell asleep with about 20 minutes to go. Anyone want to tell me how it ends, or do I need to keep it an extra day?

appopt said...

So I ended up watching the end of the movie. And I almost fell asleep again. But it was actually very cool. A bit confusing, but intense.