If You Dream About Your Teeth Falling Out, You’re Not Alone
It’s natural to wonder about dreams about teeth falling out. Human beings have always been fascinated by their dreams. In ancient times, seers looked to dreams for clues about the will of the gods or the future, and fortunetellers still engage in that sort of dream interpretation to this day.
In The Interpretation of Dreams and other works, Sigmund Freud pioneered dream analysis as a way of probing the psyche with all its supposed repressed and unresolved issues. Other psychoanalysts like Carl Jung followed in Freud’s footsteps and put their own spin on dream analysis. Today some people believe their theories lack the foundation in sound empirical method and solid evidence that true science requires, but they were at least an attempt to move beyond the mysticism of days gone by.
Today, researchers are studying dreams with more scientific rigor. Using modern sampling, survey, and statistical methods, they can identify dreams that are common to many people even across cultures. As it turns out, dreams about teeth are common, specifically, the teeth falling out dream. A recent study (Yu, 2012) found that 39 percent of people have this dream. That’s odd when you think about it considering that this is not something that frequently happens to very many of us in waking life.
Why, then, do so many of us dream about our teeth falling our (or breaking or rotting)? Two researchers Naama Rozen and Nirit Soffer-Dudek tried to find out and published their findings in 2018.
Why We Dream About Our Teeth Falling Out: Two Hypotheses
The investigators came up with two hypotheses to account for the prevalence of the teeth falling out dream. One was that the dream stemmed from actual dental distress like teeth grinding experienced during sleep. The other was that teeth falling out was a symbolic manifestation of some sort of emotional distress. We can conjecture that the latter explanation is the one Freud would have been onboard with.
The teeth grinding idea, however, is consistent with studies that show that sensory stimuli can translate into dream content. The same body of research demonstrates that people who have teeth dreams are more likely to have somatosensory dreams like flying, falling, or being chased (Yu, 2010). That provides reason to think they experience more somatosensory excitement when they’re sleeping.
Rozen and Soffer-Dubek set out to examine the possible relationship between teeth dreams, dental tension, other common dream themes, psychological distress, and general sleep disturbance. 20 subjects filled out online instruments including the Dream Motif Scale (Yu, 2012) that looks at 14 categories of dream theme. One of the categories, Sensorimotor Excitement, deals with teeth dreams as well as a few other items. Subjects also filled out the Brief Symptom Inventory that assesses anxiety, depression, and other manifestations of psychological distress, and a questionnaire that assesses sleep quality. The researchers asked subjects whether they ground their teeth at night.
Rozen and Soffer-Dubek found that the teeth falling out dream correlated with dental discomfort upon awakening but not self-reports of teeth grinding. Teeth grinding didn’t correlate with anything that had been assessed including psychological distress, typical dream themes, or sleep disturbances.
Other typical dream themes didn’t connect with that experience of dental distress. The relationship only held for teeth dreams. Nor did teeth dreams correlate with sleep disturbances or emotional distress. Psychological distress, however, did connect to teeth tension.
Why We Dream About Our Teeth Falling Out: The Takeaway
The results of the research suggest that teeth dreams connect to dental irritation and that the relationship is a fairly specific one. There doesn’t appear to be a relationship with psychological distress or general sleep disturbances, nor does dental irritation manifest itself in other dream themes.
We should note, however, that this was a correlational study. It couldn’t establish cause and effect. That means that teeth dreams may lead to teeth grinding, and the teeth grinding in turn produces dental irritation upon awakening. Perhaps future laboratory research will look at this possibility.