As I drove to my dental cleaning appointment earlier this week, I thought ahead to the questions that I knew would be coming from the dental hygienist: Any changes to your health? Are you on any medications?
The answer in the past has always been a fairly trivial “no.”
But this time the answer wouldn’t so simple. While I haven’t started any medications for treating tickborne illness yet and could have slid by with my usual answer, the weight of having recently received lab results that indicate I’ve been bitten by a tick has felt fairly significant.
I’m not sure how much the answers to those questions at the beginning of the appointment really matter. Vaguely speaking I know that certain health conditions have bearing on your oral health, presumably influencing how the hygienist assesses the state of your mouth. But I’m keenly aware of the stigma surrounding a lyme disease diagnosis, which led to a sense of hesitation about disclosing my recent health developments. And with doctors specifically, I’m tired of the air of disbelief or lack of genuine concern for my symptoms I’m often met with.
In the end, I decided to hell with my anxiety and to be upfront about things.
I outlined the health difficulties I’ve been struggling with the past few years. The misdiagnoses. The eventual trips to the United States to the Open Medicine Institute. The recent lab results.
When the mention of lyme came up, I think she was a bit taken aback at first; later though, she sprinkled the rest of the appointment with some questions about it.
And guess what? It really wasn’t a big deal to “come out”, the way my anxious mind had been making it out in my head.
In fact, it was the perfect opportunity to educate someone in the medical field about what it’s like to be bitten by a tick in this currently oblivious health climate. To her credit, she was very curious and open-minded about my experience. I think as much as it benefited her to learn something new, it also benefited me to feel like I did something (albeit small) to bring awareness to tickborne illness.
Some final thoughts:
- Depending on which circles you’re in, discussing chronic tickborne illness to others will likely be met with at least some level of skepticism. But to break the stigma surrounding it, we need to start having conversations about the reality of being bitten by a tick. Taking the opportunity to mention it to those involved in your medical care in “secondary” ways—for example, your dentist, dental hygienist, optometrist, phlebotomist—is a great place to start, since these people are already interested in health but (hopefully) haven’t developed a bias against believing in chronic tickborne illness the way that unfortunately your General Practitioner may have.
- Sharing your experience with others might lead to some unexpected insights. The person you’re talking with might be able to relate to your experience in some capacity—maybe they know someone who’s also been dealing with tickborne illness and found relief with xyz treatment. In my case, it was interesting enough just to hear that my hygienist had been bitten by a tick in her youth but thankfully not by the strain that carries any notable bacteria.
- It can be wearying to talk about your health to others. You’re tired of complaining about your symptoms. Some people act like they just don’t care, or they try to discredit the legitimacy of what you’re saying. I get it. But on the flipside, it’s very satisfying when you come across someone who is willing to listen to you and whose level of awareness you can increase.
I’m not saying that I always expect to feel great after talking about my medical issues, but this past trip to the dentist was certainly an encouraging experience that, going forward, makes me less inclined to default to hiding my experiences with tickborne illness.