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Why Do We Dream of Teeth Falling Out? Science May Have the Answer

"Teeth dreams" have previously been interpreted as a prophecy of impending death.

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Ben Taub

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Ben Taub

Freelance Writer

Benjamin holds a Master's degree in anthropology from University College London and has worked in the fields of neuroscience research and mental health treatment.

Freelance Writer

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Losing teeth dream

Dreaming about falling teeth may be a reflection of actual dental irritation.

Image credit: 9nong/Shutterstock.com

There are some dreams that almost everyone seems to have: turning up for an exam having completely forgotten to study for it, or being chased by some bad-intentioned assailant, to name just a couple. However, one of the most enigmatic, yet surprisingly common, nightmares involves losing one’s teeth, although science may have an explanation for this frustrating fantasy.

Back in 2018, researchers in Israel recruited 210 undergraduate students to take part in a dream analysis study. Participants completed questionnaires designed to assess the themes of their nocturnal hallucinations as well as their levels of psychological distress and sleep quality.

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Importantly, the researchers also quizzed participants about dental irritation, seeking answers as to whether they ever grind their teeth during their sleep, or experience tension or tenderness in their teeth, gums, or jaw upon waking. In doing so, the study authors sought to determine whether “teeth dreams” typically occur as a manifestation of psychological distress or simply represent an intrusion of one’s real dental irritation into one’s dreams.

“Teeth dreams (TD), i.e., dreams of teeth falling out or rotting, are one of the most common and universal typical dream themes,” wrote the researchers, before going on to explain that around 40 percent of people experience a TD at least once, with 8.2 percent undergoing this nightly ordeal on a regular basis. “TD are so prevalent that they have even received portrayals in popular media, such as the Walt Disney movie Inside Out, in which they were depicted as a manifestation of distress,” they continue.

The biggest problem with this is that TD don’t conform to the so-called “continuity hypothesis”, which states that our dreams should in some way reflect our waking experiences. “In other words, it is difficult to explain why so many people dream, sometimes regularly, of the experience of teeth falling out, breaking, or rotting, experiences which are not particularly common in waking life for adults,” wrote the study authors.

This apparent inconsistency has sparked numerous interpretations down the years, beginning with the Ancient Greek dream reader Artemidorus, who related the loss of teeth in dreams to the payment of financial debts. Later, a Jewish text known as the Talmud defined TD as a prophecy for the impending death of a family member, while psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud connected such dreams with sexual themes such as masturbation and castration.

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However, after sinking their teeth into their data, the study authors found a connection between TD and dental irritation upon waking, suggesting that these dreams may indeed be a manifestation of physical sensations. Teeth grinding was not directly associated with dreaming about losing one’s chompers, although this may reflect the fact that many people are unaware that they grate their jaws in their sleep.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that “TD were not associated with psychological distress at all, nor were there any correlations with specific psychological symptom subscales.” In other words, dreaming of falling teeth may be completely unrelated to mental or emotional concerns, reflecting nothing more than an actual bodily sensation.

A real kick in the teeth for the likes of Artemidorus and co.

The 2018 study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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[H/T: PsyPost]


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humansHumanshumanspsychology
  • tag
  • psychology,

  • teeth,

  • sleep,

  • dreams,

  • nightmares,

  • recurring nightmares

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