I had a very familiar nightmare last night. It woke me up out of a dead sleep, which almost never happens. I’ve had this particular recurring dream four or five times in my life, and apparently it’s one of the most common ones — so odds are good that you’ve probably had it too!
So here's what happens: I am looking in the mirror and notice that one of my teeth looks a bit... off. I touch it and feel it wiggle, then come loose in my hand and fall out — like a child’s baby tooth. To my utter horror, four or five of my other teeth also feel wiggly and loose, and before I know it they've all fallen out. At this point in the dream there's always someone else around, and I hold out my sad handful of teeth to show them. Dream emotions always feel stronger (somehow purer?) than real life emotions, so it’s difficult to adequately describe the intense mix of terror, sadness, shame, and panic this nightmare always induces. Racing dream-thoughts of “WHY did my teeth fall out? Am I sick? Is it possible for an oral surgeon to put them back? How am I going to go out in public like this?!” The profound sense of relief upon waking up (and realizing I still have all my teeth) is almost worth the bad feelings.
It had been five years since the last time I had the teeth-falling-out nightmare. This time, I was able to laugh a little bit when I woke up, and think to myself “Of COURSE you had this dream right now. Makes perfect sense.” You see, this particular nightmare tends to crop up when the dreamer is feeling out of control or powerless over changing circumstances, and during times of growth and transition. It’s incredibly common to dream about your teeth when you’re stressed — not always just teeth falling out, either. Many people report dreams of their teeth crumbling, liquefying, breaking, or rotting. Yikes.
For me, big life changes and upheavals have always gone hand in hand with the teeth-falling-out-nightmare. I’ve learned to expect it whenever there’s a transition on the horizon: a big move, a difficult breakup, graduations — anything that represents a change in life circumstances. It’s obvious that our impending cross-country move to the D.C. area is what triggered the dream this time. To be clear, I don’t put too much stock in dream interpretation. I think that our dreams are usually a regurgitation of essentially meaningless information our subconscious collects and tries to process, organized in a random way. BUT — the teeth-falling-out nightmare has occurred too predictably and too much in tandem with similar life events to be a coincidence.
Even though it’s still pretty horrible to experience, I think I’m beginning to appreciate this dream and learn from what my brain is trying to tell me whenever it happens: “Hey! Things are changing. I know you’re feeling a LOT of feelings right now. It’s okay, though. No need to fret over not having control of your circumstances — you can’t control everything, and it’s all right to be nervous when life is uncertain. Go with the flow. Be flexible. Embrace your powerlessness and acknowledge your feelings without judgment. Also... take care of your teeth.”