Q: I’ve been having a recurring dream in which I discover that my teeth are falling-out (I’ve heard this is a common one). In the dream, I am doing some mundane task when all of a sudden I reach into my mouth and pull-out one of my teeth. Subsequently, I realize that numerous teeth are loose. Before I know it, I have a handful of teeth in my hand. I am consumed with a feeling of panic.
A: Yup, you’re absolutely right, this is a very common dream (and so unpleasant!). I would even venture to say that this may be the most common dream that people share with other people after having it, it’s just so weird!
First, let’s review that recurring dreams show-up when things are sort of stuck, when there’s an issue or emotion that is working its way through our systems and can’t quite get resolved. The easiest way to get recurring dreams to go away (should you want to be rid of one) is to write the dream down and talk it through with someone who can help you objectively explore it. What you’re looking for is the emotion in the images, that is, it’s not an entirely intellectual process. For instance, you know you feel panic in this dream, but what kind? What does it remind you of? What are the specific fears wrapped-up in it? The emotion will have to find its way out of your system and be felt. Unfortunately, no impersonal dream interpretation can accomplish this task fully without your participation. The “aha!” moments are just too personal, too particular, and have to be experienced to be transformative.
But let’s see if we can get a head-start on this process! Teeth. Teeth are the very beginning of the digestion process, they break-down food before it enters our stomach so that the nutrients can be better integrated into our systems. Symbolically, they can point to the beginning of a similar process of psychic digestion, trying to process information and events that enter our awareness. If they’re falling out, it may suggest that we’re struggling to integrate something, perhaps as a result of being overwhelmed by it. Importantly, teeth also fall-out naturally at only a couple of stages of life: early childhood when we are gaining our adult teeth, and in old age. We’ve got bare gums when we’re babies and often when we’re old.
The shared experience between babies and the elderly is one of a lack of autonomy, a feeling of sort of being swept along by your own physical needs and the requirements of the outer world; for both stages in life, personal choice and personal desire are something of a luxury. You say you’re regularly doing some mundane task in this dream, which suggests to me a feeling of monotony and boredom in your life. I venture to say that for you, this dream is pointing to a feeling of persistent boredom and a loss of autonomy in your life, a feeling of being infantilized (by work or school?), and then panicked about how to reverse that experience and regain a sense of adulthood and control. My guess is that your panic in this dream involves an anticipatory feeling of having to face the world now. These teeth-falling-out dreams may be a version of the naked-in-public dreams: pure panic, terror, and a sense of desperation — “how am I going to get out of this situation and make this go away?”
So, I’m terribly curious about the nuances of your emotions when you discover that you’re losing teeth. I wonder about that panic. Perhaps the notions of not being in control of your day-to-day existence, of having to face the world before you’re calm and collected (a bit naked), resonates. What more is in there? These images may point to themes that others experience too, but the nuances are yours alone. What are the very specific fears and contemplations about the future, unique only to you, that arise when you look in your hand and see a handful of teeth? What do those feelings remind you of from your waking life?
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in Jungian psychology and the years of Quarter-Life. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com