Have you ever dreamt about your teeth falling out? Perhaps you’ve even had this dream more than once. It’s reasonable to feel a little disturbed after such a dream. You might wake up wondering if there’s a deeper meaning that your subconscious is trying to tell you. Perhaps this dream is accompanied by a feeling of a loss of control, or brings up worries about losing something or someone important to you. Perhaps the dream reminds you that it’s been a while since you’ve been to the dentist, and you’re feeling anxious about your dental health.
If you’ve had a dream like this, you’re not alone. Research exploring common dream themes tells us that 39% of the population has experienced dreams about their teeth falling out, rotting, or breaking, at least one time in their lives. Recurrent teeth dreams are reported by 16.2% of sleepers, and 8.2% report having teeth dreams regularly.
A particularly vivid dream of teeth falling out may naturally raise concerns about your health, well-being, or sleep quality. But whether you’re feeling alarmed after your own unsettling teeth dream or simply curious about why these types of dreams occur, it is important to know that teeth dreams likely do not mean anything serious.
Nevertheless, dreams about teeth trauma are strikingly common. Various cultures, religions, and individuals have offered frameworks for interpreting these types of dreams, but the topic has historically been approached with more superstition than science.
People have been guessing about the meaning of dreams for as long as humans have been around. From writers of Jewish texts like the Torah and Talmud to Ancient Egyptian and Greek philosophers, many thinkers originally believed dreams to be a means of communication from the divine. Dreams about teeth falling out were also thought to prophesy events, ranging from paying off debts to losing a loved one.
Over the course of history, these themes of loss and death have been consistent in many other interpretations. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both believed dreams to be symbols of deep psychological significance, and their influence has shaped many ideas about teeth dreams. It may come as no surprise that Freud believed dreams about teeth falling out were signs of subconscious sexual needs and fears. He did, however, recognize the possibility that they could be related to dental stimulation. From a scientific perspective, this seems much more plausible, but the idea was not scientifically pursued.
More recently, one aspect that puzzles scientific thinkers is that teeth dreams do not fit into the continuity hypothesis about dreaming. The continuity hypothesis asserts that the content of our dreams reflects the content of our waking thoughts and experiences. While dreaming about your teeth rotting or falling out can be a shocking experience, it isn’t something many people go through in waking life.
Currently, many ideas about teeth dreams are based on old superstitions that lingered. And, although these ideas have not been confirmed by science, they may still prime us to feel worried or anxious should we have a dream about our teeth falling out.
Unfortunately, not many scientists have directly studied dreams about losing your teeth. In response to the lack of empirical evidence about teeth dreams, two researchers have delved deeply into the topic. Rozen and Soffer-Dubek from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, conducted a research study to better understand the potential relationship between teeth dreams, psychological distress, dental irritation, and sleep quality.
First, they recognized the two overarching themes of interpretation emerging from history and formed their hypotheses — are teeth dreams a symbolic manifestation of psychological distress, or are they a product of our brains incorporating dental stimulation into our sleep? To investigate, they enrolled undergraduate students to answer measures about dream themes, psychological distress, dental irritation, and sleep quality. The two key items they used to measure dental irritation were teeth tension, defined as a feeling of tenderness after waking, and teeth grinding during sleep.
The study found that teeth dreams correlated to teeth tension, but they did not correlate to teeth grinding. To interpret this finding, the researchers suggest that many people may not be aware that they grind their teeth during sleep, but they would still be aware of the tender feeling when they awoke. Interestingly, teeth dreams were not related to any problems with sleep or mental health. The study also did not find any correlation between teeth tension and other types of dreams.
This early research suggests two things: teeth dreams are related to dental irritation during sleep, and teeth dreams are uniquely related to dental irritation in a way that other types of dreams are not. While this particular study found no connection between teeth dreams and psychological distress, a previous study found that college students who had teeth dreams felt greater depression, anxiety, helplessness, and loss of control.
More broadly, this research supports the theory that some somatosensory stimulation influences the content of dreams. In other words, physical stimulation to our body and senses during sleep can affect what we dream about.
If you’ve recently had a dream about your teeth falling out, breaking, or rotting, there is likely nothing serious to worry about. To date, there has been no evidence to support the idea that teeth dreams arise from subconscious problems or predict negative life events.
Preliminary evidence suggests teeth dreams may relate to dental irritation during sleep and may be more common in people with depression or anxiety. If you are having frequent teeth dreams and feeling anxious about them, consider talking to a doctor or mental health professional about your worries. If you notice you are grinding your teeth at night, waking up with dental pain, or experiencing other oral problems, talk to your dentist to help you understand and manage your symptoms.