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Research Day: The "Teeth Falling Out" Dream

What's the deal with the "teeth falling out" dream?: A few times a year I have a dream in which my teeth are either loose or falling out. I'd always assumed that these dreams were unique to me, until a few years ago at a party when I overheard a girl describing just such a dream to a friend, who responded with "Oh yeah, 'the teeth falling out' dream. Everyone gets those." I've since discover that this is not strictly true: not everyone gets them -- The Queen doesn't, for example. But they are certainly not rare. In fact, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud named it as one of the four "typical dreams," along with "falling from a height, ... flying, and embarrassment because one is naked or scantily clad."

This was a tough one to research, not due to dearth of information on the subject, but rather because of abundance. There are a bajillion websites that purport to interpret dreams, but most of them appear to utilize the scientific method commonly referred to as "guessing." A good example is this one which says that the "teeth falling out dream" must have to do with anxiety over children, because "animals carry their young around with their teeth."

The most common explanation on these sites is that the "teeth falling out" dream reflects anxiety about appearance. I can see that, I guess, but it seems like that when I have this dream, I am much more concerned about the actual loss of my teeth rather than about my resultant appearance. Another common interpretation is that this results from the dreamer's fears about "losing power". That hits closer to home for me -- in the dreams I always find myself wondering how I'm going to eat with no teeth -- but I haven't made a conscience effort to note when these dreams take place and see if they correspond with feelings of "power loss" in my waking life (like, when I'm in close proximity to Kryptonite).

Perhaps it's the skeptic in me, but I find the most plausible explanation to be the most boring: that the dreams are a manifestation of bruxism ("the habitual, involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth, usually during sleep") which, according to my dentist, I show symptoms of. I guess I better get that Night Guard after all.

Bonus! Who was in The Wiz?: Dorothy: Diana Ross; The Scarecrow: Michael Jackson; The Tinman: Nipsey Russell; The Lion: Ted Ross; The Wiz: Richard Prior.

Posted on May 24, 2004 to Research Day


It's been a long time since I read "Interpretation of Dreams", but I believe Freud said those dreams were due to anxiety over loss, usually a major one. Of course, Freud said a lot of things, much of which has been discredited.

Posted by: mallarme on May 24, 2004 11:07 AM

I've had dreams like this too! Reading your research I disagreed with everything except the bruxism explanation. That's how I felt when I woke up after a tooth dream-- I knew I'd put too much stress on my teeth. What's going on with the body can really effect the mind!

Posted by: Liz on May 24, 2004 11:27 AM

I'm not sure if a tooth dream would be caused by bruxism or not, but I can tell you for sure that it doesn't work the other way around. I've never had a dream about losing my teeth, but I have such severe bruxism that one dentist said that my teeth look like what he'd expect of a 50 year old. I'm 32. So I had to get a custom-fitted, $400 mouth guard. Which is now worn through in spots. Yeah. I grind my teeth alot.

Posted by: Sam on May 24, 2004 11:38 AM

Oh, ugh, the *tooth loss* dream!

I always figured that it was (wait for it...wait for it...) a dream reflecting anxiety about losing ones teeth. But hey, maybe I'm just overly literal-minded.

Seriously, though, my big spate of tooth-loss dreams hit me at around the same time that my gums first started receding. I suspect that a lot of people start getting them at around the age when they first notice that they are becoming, quite literally, "long in the tooth." So on some level, perhaps it is also a dream reflecting anxiety about the physical manifestations of the natural aging process.

Posted by: Elkins on May 24, 2004 12:04 PM

I had read somewhere long ago, that dreams of losing teeth were about "castration fear", which would go along with your "losing power" explanation.

I hate that damn dream...

Posted by: Windopaene on May 24, 2004 12:23 PM

Years ago I worked on a phone psychic line. A very upset woman called asking for someone to interpret some dreams. She and her boyfriend had both dreamed of losing their teeth, she said, and according to a book she'd borrowed, this meant that they were surely going to die.

A little further conversation revealed that she had dreamed about needing help to pull her own tooth because she couldn't do it alone. Meanwhile, the boyfriend dreamed of his teeth falling out and being unable to stop them. The woman then casually mentioned that she wanted to leave the boyfriend but didn't feel up to doing it alone; she needed help. He was fully aware of her plans and knew he couldn't stop her.

You didn't need to be a psychic to figure out those interpretations. She was just relieved to hear she wasn't facing imminent death.

Posted by: anonymous on May 24, 2004 12:39 PM

I just had this dream on Thursday night. I bit down on a seed or something and two caps popped out of my mouth.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and pronounce that I don't think there is a meaning to this, or any other dream.

Posted by: Rob Cockerham on May 24, 2004 12:48 PM


Posted by: studebacherhoch on May 24, 2004 12:49 PM

I had read somewhere long ago, that dreams of losing teeth were about "castration fear", which would go along with your "losing power" explanation.

That's Freud, Windopaene.

"The dream-work represents castration by baldness, hair-cutting, the loss of teeth, and beheading." [source]

Posted by: Matthew on May 24, 2004 1:19 PM

I've had the tooth-loss dream many times throughout my life and it had nothing to do with age or needing teeth work. I haven't equated it to much more than just the anxiety of how sucky that would be. And I'm not a tooth-grinder. But, it does seem strange that so many of us subconsciously fear the same thing. I think it's a shared dark spirit of mastication issues deep in our psyche.

Posted by: Jasper on May 24, 2004 1:32 PM

Are you Tony Soprano?

They had another "dream" episode last Sunday and in this one he loses two of his teeth. I looked it up and found this link:


...which talks about various things including competency, which is the meaning I think The Sopranos was going for.

"Leave the gun; take the cannoli."

Posted by: wheezy joe on May 24, 2004 1:40 PM

They had another "dream" episode last Sunday and in this one he loses two of his teeth.

Ha! Really? No, I catch The Sopranos on DVD only, but it's funny that aired on the same day I wrote this ...

Posted by: Matthew on May 24, 2004 1:43 PM

Having bruxism myself, the teeth falling out dream is what I attribute to causing my bruxism. I still think the dentist makes some kind of cut on those Nazi mouth guards. I bought a book on TMJ with exercises and whatnot and that is helping so I'm forgoing the $300 gag gaurd. The teeth falling out it also usually accompanied by not being able to close the jaw, like it's way off kilter and stuck. Sadly this is part of TMJ also and so I think I'm just visualizing in my dreams, what's happening in reality at night. Ick.

Posted by: Heather on May 24, 2004 1:43 PM

There's an early Martin Amis novel called Dead Babies in which a main character has a crushing phobia about tooth loss. The book is super-meanspirited and horrible, but in a good way, unlike many other Martin Amis novels, which are frequently just horrible.

Posted by: Skot on May 24, 2004 1:46 PM

There's that other tooth-themed novel/movie, "Ruben Ruben" where the protagonist's worst fear is toothlessness, and then he bangs a woman who's married to a dentist, and the dentist finds out about his wife's affair with the protagonist, and then the protagonist needs dental work and goes to the dentist-husband and wheee! What could more comical than some vengeful unnecessary tooth-pulling that results in suicide?

Posted by: Mrs. Kennedy on May 24, 2004 2:04 PM

I'm what one might call a wild sleeper. The wall above my side of the bed is covered with dings and scratches from my jewlery. My nightstand houses my current bite guard, which is nearly ground through. My grinding teeth don't affect my dreams, but my flailing limbs often bring dreams of kung-fu fighting (9 times out of 10, my sister and I are the ones involved in the epic battle, while half of the time she is the victor because she can be intimidating with intensly right-wing views - and she is bigger than I am). However, if I forget my bite guard or spit it out in the middle of the night, my bed-mate (a very lucky non-grinder) will wake up shivering and grasping his teeth to make sure they are still there. On those nights/early mornings he has said that his teeth started to make a horrible noise, which resembled the sound of my grinding teeth, as they crumbled to sharp little bits of calcium inside his mouth.

Posted by: E on May 24, 2004 2:37 PM

I've never had the tooth nightmare, probably because losing my teeth isn't exactly in my top 100 fears.

Of course, after reading this thread I'm pretty sure I know what I'll be dreaming about tonight...

Posted by: Stella on May 24, 2004 4:03 PM
In the symbology of dreams teeth are thought to have sexual associations: strong teeth, biting and chewing food, symbolize vitality, and "the urge to bite when making love is significant. The love for one's partner is so intense that one could 'just gobble him or her up.' Dreams of losing teeth... like dental pain itself, have to do with sexual potency and impotence. Masturbation, above all, brings on dreams of losing teeth, as an expression of the sapping of energy" [E. Aeppli, Der Traum und seine Deutung.]

from Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them by Hans Biedermann, under "tooth"

Posted by: Zed on May 24, 2004 4:57 PM

I don't have the teeth loss dream, just dreams that I can't open my jaw, and it keeps closing tighter until my teeth start cracking and breaking. Then I wake up and still can't get my jaw open. I'm a grinder too, with the million dollar appliance. I outgrew the appliance a few years ago, as I got it in high school, but wore it anyways for a while because it cost so much. It was so tight by the end that I'd have horrible painful teeth dreams until about the middle of the night when I'd pull it out in my sleep.

Incidentally, I usually find the lockjaw dreams coincide to general stress in my life. Not that a sore jaw helps to relieve it. My body is so helpful.

Posted by: Amy on May 24, 2004 5:53 PM

One thing that pretty much everyone in the world has in common: We've all lost some or all of our primary teeth at some point in our lives. This was the evidence provided to support the one theory that I liked about such dreams, that they represent a concern about some form of maturation. Since losing "baby" teeth is generally viewed as stepstones to adulthood, that interpretation always made sense to me.

I like psychic "anonymous"'s version even better, though. Probably it just means something different depending on context.

Posted by: eric on May 24, 2004 6:00 PM

The other night I dreamed I was eating a giant marshma-OWWW, QUIT IT! Okay, I'm sorrrrry!!!!

Posted by: mr. grooism on May 24, 2004 6:15 PM

Stephanie Mills was in the original stage version of The Wiz, or so I've heard.

I was in The Wiz too once, as a 5-foot-7 munchkin. So they had us scoot around on our butts. Weirdos.

Posted by: blunder on May 24, 2004 6:35 PM

Weirdly, my best friend has always told me that the "teeth-falling-out" dream means you are about to come into some money and you should play the lottery as soon as possible.

Posted by: Carny Asada on May 24, 2004 8:02 PM

Actually I have dreams (nightmares) of my front tooth breaking, which has been patched, spackled, reformed, and patched and respakled over again no less than four times since I first broke it about a year after it grew in when I was a kid. That entire incident of breaking it wasn't traumatizing enough (included a split lip and lots of blood) so I managed to repeatedly rebreak the partial over the years since I seem to have an unconscious need to be tortured by dental drills and grinders.

That added to the residual parental induced terror due to a massive cash investment for years of orthodontic work (don't loose that retainer! Don't you know how much that thing costs!?) has lead to many dental related nightmares.

Oh yeah, and the fact that my dentist wasn't licensed to do general anesthesia for wisdom tooth extractions. Word to the wise, if you're getting your wisdom teeth pulled find a dentist who does general. I have to say the sound of big fat molars being forcibly cracked into a zillion little pieces with god knows what kind of implements of destruction (I don't know what they were because I had my eyes closed the whole time) is the most horrifying memory I'll ever have. To this day the sound of just knuckles cracking makes my blood run cold because of it. My husband can't understand why his habitual knuckle cracking pisses me off so. Hopefully he'll never have personal experience to make him understand why.

Yeah, that's why I have tooth nightmares. Freud was a pussy who knew not of what he spoke.

Posted by: hdc on May 24, 2004 9:22 PM

Oh, and I also had to have six baby teeth pulled before getting my braces installed (can't think of any other way to describe it) because the teeth wouldn't come out themselves. Four of em were molars. Local anesthesia again, same dentist (my parent's really must've not liked me then to have repeatedly sent me to this bastard). And the root of that, bad pun - sorry - was that the permanent teeth had lost most or all of their eruptive force meaning that two of the permanent teeth had to be forcibly pulled into place. This was accomplished by having an oral surgeon go in to my gums and tie wire lassos around them (general anesthesia - yay!) which where then attached to my braces and yanked tighter every two weeks to winch them in to place. And I also never developed my upper eye teeth so I'm short two pearlies. Oh yeah, Jr. High & High School were an absolute blast for me.

But where my dentist lacked in insurance policies he made up for in dental artistry as my mouth came together amazingly well as I'm not snaggle toothy at all now.

So yeah, I have tooth paranoia related nightmares. Now you all are going to have a real reason for your tooth falling out nightmares, eh?

Posted by: hdc on May 24, 2004 9:51 PM

I thought it was fear of death. Get old, teeth fall out. Fear of death and aging.

But why isn't it: Fear of your teeth falling out? I mean, that's scary enough. Sometimes a dream is just a dream or something?

Posted by: Miel on May 25, 2004 1:03 AM

Yeah, I'm going to put my name down with the 'tooth falling out' dream.
Also, does anyone have the 'can't move legs' dream? I used to have that weekly in the winter and then when summer came and I didn't have it anymore. I realised it was all due to my incredibly heavy blanket rather than any subconcious fear of paralysis

Posted by: Sparticus on May 25, 2004 1:09 AM

Be careful, this dream is catching. For 27 years I was "teeth falling out" dream free until one night, my friend Amy was telling me about how she constantly has these dreams. Of course she's had extensive dental work in her "waking life" so I thought it was pretty cut and dry until that night, I had one of my own. Treat the "teeth falling out" dreams like fight club - you don't talk about it.

Posted by: Kristen on May 25, 2004 5:42 AM

Freud thought the teeth falling out dream was due to guilt about masturbation. I kid you not.

That's the first I've heard of the teeth grinding theory, it makes the most sense to me. Either way, it's intriguing why this dream is so universal.

Posted by: Sarah on May 25, 2004 5:56 AM

I too have had the 'legs can't move' dream. I have also had dreams about sleeping. Those are weird dreams. In them I stumble around, exhausted, looking for a place to sleep. I usually end up falling asleep on the floor or in the middle of the street or something. I have never dreamed about teeth, however. Not once.

Posted by: sibyl on May 25, 2004 6:29 AM

We need a scientific poll. I have these dreams several times a year, and having questioned my friends, I've found a lot of them have also had them. In trying to figure out why so many of us have the same dreams, I think we might have stumbled on another plausible explanation beside teeth grinding. Braces! All of my friends that have had the dream have had braces; in fact, most of us started having these dreams while in braces. The few days after a tightening session left your teeth aching and sore and (for me) the feeling that your teeth are moving around loose in there and about to fall out. My dreams don't involve any grinding. I just notice one seems loose, I wiggle it, then it falls out, then they all start falling out, with lots of blood. I always wake up so scared and have to touch my teeth to make sure they are there! So that's my vote - braces or some other dental problems are the root of these dreams. Not lost children or guilt or power trips.

Posted by: Keiric on May 25, 2004 10:50 AM

One of my front teeth is a permanent crown, and I always have dreams that it's falling out. I have this dream about once a month. So far, nothing's happened.

I am going to start buying lottery tickets.

Posted by: Mickey on May 25, 2004 10:54 AM

i read once that if your or someone you know's teeth are falling out or rotting, its becuase there is lying and dishonesty in the situation or relationship.

Posted by: livie on May 25, 2004 5:06 PM

Dental tip of the day:
Before you spend the major cash on a night guard, pick up a $5 sports version and see how that works for you. I bought a series of very expensive ones before switching to another dentist who gave me the cheap tip.

Posted by: ken on May 25, 2004 8:27 PM

TEETH: Being long in the tooth comes from experience and maturity in life. To loose teeth can show inability to make decisions, wishy washy ways, deceiving yourself or living under false pretenses or ‘lying through your teeth’. Maybe you are too nice to say what you really feel.


Posted by: carly on May 25, 2004 8:44 PM

I used to have the tooth loss dream all the time. I think the dream has a lot to do with anxiety in general (rather than just appearance). Think about how you feel in the dream when you lose the tooth. For me, the thought wasn't "Boy, I'll look silly without my tooth." It's more of a feeling of deep and permanent loss. More like "Oh crap, I'll never get my real tooth back now! What am I going to do?" (note that in my dreams, I was never lucid enough to think about crowns and bridges). There's also a touch of guilt thrown in there. "If I'd taken better care of my teeth, they wouldn't have fallen out."

I think this basically comes down to being afraid of something happening in your life that will drastically and permanently harm it, or worse, you doing something to help that bad thing to happen. I don't know if you noticed if you tend to get the dream at times when you're more worried, or near some major life event -- choosing a college, looking for a job, getting married, having a kid. These are all things that might bring up the same feelings of "I really don't want to screw this up." Having a kid has a lot of parallels to the tooth dream for me. Maybe part of the tooth dream is that you're worried that you're not worrying enough about things. Through your inaction, you've managed to lose your teeth. Maybe it means that you're afraid that through neglect, you're going to screw up your kid. And permanently -- you're only going to get one chance to raise him/her right.

Well, that's my take on it. It could be that it's just related to tooth pain from braces or teeth grinding. Or maybe you combine the pain with your anxiety to come up with the dream.

By the way, the leg paralysis dream might be sleep paralysis, also known as Old Hag. You can read more about it here:
Basically your body shuts off most of its movement so that when you dream that you're running around somewhere, you're not thrashing about and hurting yourself. But sometimes when people are kind of half awake, they try to move, but their bodies haven't woken up yet so they can't move. Sometimes this paralysis is accompanied by the sensation and/or image of a person, often an old woman, sitting on your chest and preventing your movement. Pretty creepy, huh?

Posted by: lemming on May 27, 2004 5:32 PM

I know what this dream means without a doubt. It means that you are worried about money or financial problems. Hope that helps.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 27, 2004 11:59 PM

I always figured that it was (wait for it...wait for it...) a dream reflecting anxiety about losing ones teeth.

I actually agree with you there, because I stopped having those dreams after I visited the dentist.

Posted by: echo on May 31, 2004 8:08 PM