Our dreams comprise a huge part of our lives. They are the things that fuel us, that keep us working. It’s the place we go to make sense of the day, where we’re safe to express all that which is consciously inexpressible during waking hours. Our teeth enjoy a similar level of importance – eating becomes a near insurmountable task when you can’t chew, and so their presence is key to our survival. Chances are you've had at least one dream about the loss of your teeth – perhaps they fell out, or crumbled, maybe they were even pulled. According to dream experts it’s one of the five most common recurring dreams for people – but what does it all mean? Let’s take a look at some popular interpretations.
This subject matter is certainly not new. Written interpretations of tooth loss in dreams can be found as early as 2nd century B.C.E., when Ancient Greek diviner and geographer Artemidorus wrote of the phenomenon in his tome Oneirocritica. In it he posited that it foretells death or loss of property, and went into surprising detail to explain what each tooth might represent. Upper teeth, for instance, denote persons of higher rank, and lower more inferior acquaintances. If the teeth lost are from the right, the person to die will be male - if lost from the left, female. Front teeth represent the young, canines the middle aged, and molars the old.
The interpretation of these dreams as the portending of death is not unique to Ancient Greece, though not everyone got quite so specific. Bar Hedwa, an interpreter of dreams in the Talmud, saw tooth loss dreams as a precursor to the death of a family member. Evidence of this popular belief can be found many other places as well, ranging from literary works written in the Middle Ages to documented belief systems of Navajo Indians.
As we move into the 20th century, we start to see a broader range of interpretation. Freud held dreams of losing teeth to be (shocker) a symbol of sexual repression. Jung believed them to be symbolic of childbirth – the common thread being something is removed from the body - when the dreamer was female. Jerome M. Schneck published a study in 1974 wherein he related tooth loss in dreams to a fear of aging.
Contemporary dream experts seem to have moved away from naming a specific fear or labeling the dreams a premonition. Common themes in current thought focus on the larger context of the dream and how it relates to your current environmental factors. Did you recently say something you shouldn't have or reveal information best kept secret? The dream expert on Dr. Oz’s website would say that is the cause of your toothless dreams. Jungian therapist Richard Nicoletti, on the other hand, holds that the meaning can be anywhere from an inability to access emotional experience, a failure to really “bite into” an important issue in life, a fear of aging or a feeling that one’s destiny has not been fully realized.
Yet others consider these dreams to be representative of depression, anxiety, a loss of control or a loss of personal power. This tracks an interesting parallel to a study completed in 1984, where 28 subjects were interviewed and those with recurrent dreams of losing teeth reported much higher incidences of anxiety, depression and general dissatisfaction with life.
As is so often the case with matters of the mind, there is no universal consensus on why we dream about losing our teeth and what it all means. It seems that a commonality in these theories is loss – loss of a loved one, loss of confidence, loss of youth, loss of emotional control. When asked in a Huffington Post article what people can do to prevent their occurrence, Nicoletti answered simply “live freely.” He advised confronting your issues but not dealing with them too aggressively - "Psychoanalysis is the process of trying to understand one's life issues. If one has an attitude that one is looking to resolve, don't avoid the issue. Or, one may be overzealous about resolving issues in waking life, in which case the dream may be saying, 'Back off.'" No matter the cause of your toothless sleep, the call to live freely seems always a good one to answer!