Ever had a dream about losing teeth? You are not alone! It is surprisingly common – and it’s been the topic of study for a number of psychologists.
A recurring dream about losing teeth
If you’ve ever had the dream about losing teeth more than once, you might want to look at reasons why you are having recurring dreams. They usually happen at stressful times of life, or through periods of constant change.
According to a study by Antonio Zadra et al in 1996, recurring dreams are extremely common and occur in between 60% and 75% of adults. According to Zadra, women are more likely to have recurring dreams than men and common themes include falling, being late, missing or failing an exam, and – you’ve guessed it – losing teeth.
If you dream about losing teeth, you are in a “typical dream theme.”
According to a study by Yu in 2012, 39% of the population has reported frequent dreams about teeth falling out, rotting or breaking. Yu found that this also remains constant, regardless of age or race.
It is strange because we quite often dream about waking life situations. Yet, having a dream about losing teeth is far from reflecting waking life because teeth falling out is not a common occurrence. Because of this, it is hard to know why people experience such dreams, so one recent study set out to find out.
A dream about losing teeth could relate to actual dental distress
The authors of a recent psychological study by Rozen et al. suggested two potential hypotheses. One relates to actual dental distress, such as teeth grinding during sleep. However, Rozen et al outlined a possibility that a dream about losing teeth is more metaphorically related to factors of psychological distress.
If the first, there is thought that the act of teeth grinding may be enough to trigger a dream about teeth. This is because the sensations of the teeth grinding alone can be enough to be incorporated into a dream.
It may sound strange, but actually, it falls in line with other studies of a similar thread. In fact, people who commonly suffer from a dream about losing teeth are more likely to have other similar dreams such as falling, being chased or flying.
There is a study to prove it!
If you think this all sounds a bit far-fetched, there were other studies that exist to test the relationship between teeth dreams and dental tension. There were also further studies into other typical dream themes, general sleep disturbances, and factors of psychological distress.
In one study, a total of 210 participants completed online questionnaires, including the Dream Motif Scale (Yu, 2012), which assess dream themes in 14 categories, including falling, teeth falling out, among other items.
Participants also completed the “Brief Symptom Inventory”, which assesses many psychological symptoms. These include anxiety, depression, and others. Finally, participants responded to whether they grind their teeth at night and whether they experience dental irritation in the morning. Sleep quality was assessed as well.
The authors of the study found that occurrence of any dream about teeth correlated with experience of dental distress upon awakening but not with self-reported teeth grinding. Teeth grinding was not associated with any of the measures, including sleep disturbance, typical dream themes, or psychological distress.
Other typical dream themes were not found to correlate with actual dental distress, the relationship was found only for teeth dreams. Further, teeth dreams were not associated with psychological distress or sleep disturbances, although psychological distress was related to teeth tension.
Nevertheless, as this is a correlational study, the causality cannot be determined. It’s possible that teeth dreams cause teeth grinding which is then associated with dental irritation on awakening.
The prognosis for negative dreams
Recent research actually suggests that, for students, dreams of failing an exam can be correlated with better performance on the test. Therefore, it is possible that dreams about losing or rotting teeth could prompt the dreamer to take better care of their health.
One study looked at dream reports from medical students on several nights preceding a major exam, where the dreams generally were negative and ended poorly. These results could be interpreted as showing that dreaming of the exam, even negatively, reflects a stronger desire and motivation to succeed.
Further, the dream could even work towards consolidation of memory traces relevant to the learning material, similar to prior findings that dreaming of a learning task is associated with improved performance (Wamsley et al 2010). Thus, negative recurrent dreams may still serve an adaptive function.
Have you always been a dreamer?
Recurrent dream themes often start at a young age, but can begin at any time, and persist for the rest of your life. The theme of missing an exam, to take one example, commonly begins during college years, when the stress of performing well may be more intense than ever before. However, this theme may then carry forward as a recurring dream for many years, even as one moves on to a career.
Theorists suggest that these themes may be considered in line with Freud’s theory of “complexes” (Freud 1950). Dream theorists generally agree that recurring dreams are connected to unresolved problems in the life of the dreamer.
Empirical research has also supported findings that resolution of a recurrent dream is associated with improved well-being (Zadra, 1996). However, in general, recurring dreams indicate the presence of an unresolved and persistent conflict in an individual’s life. If the recurrent dreams stop, it may indicate that the conflict has been successfully resolved.
Therefore, being aware of and working with recurring dreams in your personal life or in therapy is a useful tool for resolving conflicts and improving well-being.