Getting short in the tooth
Last week I had to go to the dentist. I hate going to the dentist: there are few things more humiliating than giving a dental assistant you once taught a bird's-eye view of your mouth. I live in constant fear that one day an iPhone pic of my badly flossed teeth may make it to her Facebook page tagged with "plaque", "previous teacher" and "partially masticated Bran Flake matter". But I had no choice: a cracked molar and a dull ache meant an emergency appointment.
The whole episode caused me huge anxiety. First, there was the ignominy of being the first teacher to appear on the new term's cover list, which means I've forfeited the right to complain about absentee colleagues forever. Second, by taking time off so early in the term I won't be eligible for my next medical parole until September 2013. And finally - and this is the important one - it turns out that my teeth are crumbling away. According to my dentist, they are in a race with the North Yorkshire coastline to see which can erode fastest.
He drew some helpful pictures in the air to illustrate his point. "This is what healthy teeth should look like," he said, using his forefinger to sketch out what looked like a high-altitude mountain range, complete with cairns, a trig point and a useful plateau on which to eat your sandwiches, "and this is what your teeth look like." He dropped his finger to outline a relief map of the Fens.
Apparently it's stress that does it. Every night, while the rest of the world is counting fluffy sheep, I'm worrying about controlled assessment grades and grinding my teeth to a pulp. According to my dentist, polishing them with an orbital sander couldn't have made them any worse. "The damage is irreversible," he said, shaking his head in the manner of someone who is fighting the urge to punch the air and sanctimoniously shout "I told you so". He added: "If you want to hang on to your teeth past Christmas, you're going to need a splint." This wasn't what I had hoped for. When I entered into a Faustian pact with education, I knew it might cost me my social life, but I hadn't planned on staking my teeth.
After he had glued the pieces of fractured molar back together, he revealed that he had fitted more protective mouth splints for teachers than for any other profession. I tested this back at work and found that three of my English colleagues have been ostracised by their dentists for persistently grinding their teeth, and one woman, who is only 28, has been fitted with a splint.
Nor is this decline in oral health due to dodgy northern diets. According to some Twitterpals, splints are as widespread among teachers as red pens, board markers and spiral-bound planners. Of course, the fact that we live in classrooms made from Haribo doesn't help. But given that we seem to be heading towards some kind of pandemic, it might be sensible for the NHS to offer us free dental care - as they do with other high-risk groups such as pregnant women or new mums - to save what's left of our teeth.
In truth, I'm terrified of losing them. While cancer and heart disease are the bill-topping Shakespearean tragedies of life, losing your teeth is still a drama. It's a cruel slapstick reminder of your own mortality, like involuntary farting, stress incontinence and wearing too much beige. But I'm optimistic that my new splint will sort me out. Otherwise, if my dentist has his way, I'll be looking for a new career.
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.