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“. . .Even Though It’s Breaking” (Part I)

Smile 3/22/2014

At the very beginning of this post, you have already seen something rarely seen by anyone. . .even those close to the author.

A full smile. Well. . .as close as one can get to a smile that is taken purposely to present a certain problem that is now in the process of being addressed.

Perhaps now it is a little more clear why I am hesitant to offer a “smile,” even upon earnest request when in a group picture. Perhaps it’s a little more clear why I often offer to take those group pictures.

In a consultation with a new dentist this week, we covered a lot of the same territory I have covered with specialists since the age of fourteen. And another specialist at the age of twenty-four. And yet another somewhere in the area of my mid-thirties (probably at thirty-four, but that would just be too predictable).

I am forty-four years old. I am thirty years older than the first time someone suggested orthodontics and surgery. My dentist–at the beginning of our conversation thought that I might not be a good candidate for this type of work at my age, by the time the x-rays came back and a brief bite study was done in the office, she could see no other recourse.

This week, I have two root canals scheduled. I am awaiting a cancellation that will afford me the ability to get at least one or two of the four cleanings that need to be done (they do these in quadrants, I understand. We’ll come back to this point). I have a consultation with an orthodontist (who–by turn of events and careful planning–is doing Noah and Maddie’s orthodontia work right now) on Thursday afternoon to see what he has to say about a course of treatment that has my dentist thinking that there is a possibility that I could not only have a bite in time, I could eventually have a smile that I would be okay with sharing with the public.

It’s the kind of thing that would make you cry if you weren’t being asked to smile.

You see. . .I’m terrified. I’ve been through some of the very worst experiences that one could go through in a dentist’s chair. I’ve had pieces of my upper palate removed after a traumatic event that left me wearing a partial for five years. I’ve had wads of sterile gauze packed into my mouth in order to facilitate the taking of x-rays. I have no forward bite. I cannot hold many of the devices necessary to take good pictures of my mouth. I’ve been chided. I’ve been criticized. One entry in my Naval Dental Record cites, “horrible oral hygiene.” This entry was made right before the entry denying my candidacy for oral surgery as I was to roll out to a sea rotation before the course of treatment could be finished. Thank you, Navy.

When I am asked to smile, please don’t think for a second that I don’t want to do just that. I want to do what everyone else in the room is doing. I want to sit across the table from you and not have you thinking that I chew like Popeye with a big, fresh wad of spinach (I have not bitable surface. I chew only on my right side. My bite is open even when my lips are closed. My jay hinges ache often because they never close).

It’s the kind of thing that would make you cry if you weren’t being asked to smile.

If you want to stick around for a little bit (the best case scenario sees work being done within the next year and a half. . .the worst case scenario has a three-year plan), I’d like draw some parallels between the work that I am doing with that struggling reader in your room right now.

I know the discomfort they are feeling in a most personal way.

“Read,” says the teacher.

“Out loud?” asks the struggling reader.

The whole room is waiting.

And it’s not that they don’t want to do this. Every struggling reader with whom I’ve interacted has said that they would love to do what everyone else in the room is doing comfortably.

Their report cards suggest they are “not trying hard enough.” Their “carries” are the grades that follow them from room, from teacher to teacher.

They open their mouths to begin and it feels like their mouth is full of sterile gauze.

We could get them reading with a plan of care. . .but they must roll on to 6th. . .7th. . .8th grade. There’s always some other “C” calling, and you really hope that it is a “C” you might see at the end of the 180 days in the classroom (which begins with “C”–I cannot help myself but to see and to share this here).

And we move from quadrant to quadrant (but we call them “quarters” or “marking periods”). For the struggling reader, it’s simply marking time.

We’ll have more to say on this in the months to come. I hope that you stick around. After all, I’ve shown you something I’ve kept from many.

In the next installment, I’ll tell you how and why my new dentist has become MY dentist. For the duration.

It’s the kind ¬†of thing that would make you cry.

If you weren’t being asked to smile.

~ by paulwhankins on March 22, 2014 .



2 Responses to ““. . .Even Though It’s Breaking” (Part I)”

  1.   Joan Young Says:

    Paul,
    You have a remarkable way of relating challenges we face as adults to those facing our learners. I am touched.. in tears actually, by your courage in sharing this important story. Someday I hope to share my own story of my smile..that stays hidden.. but that is not the point of my comment.
    The point is to say thank you…and to say I am wishing you the best on this journey. Your students are so very lucky to have you in their corner.

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