Have you ever had a dream where your teeth were falling out? If so, you’re not alone. These dreams, known as “teeth dreams” are quite common. But have you ever wondered why so many people have them? A study published in Frontiers in Psychology sought to uncover the reasons behind these peculiar dreams and found a connection to dental irritation during sleep.
Teeth dreams, such as those where your teeth fall out, break, or rot, are among the most prevalent dream themes experienced by people. In fact, about 39% of respondents in a previous study reported having had teeth dreams at least once. Teeth dreams have puzzled researchers because they don’t seem to align with the “continuity hypothesis,” which suggests that our dreams are influenced by our waking concerns and experiences.
Over the years, various interpretations have been proposed for teeth dreams, ranging from symbolic meanings to psychological distress. Some believed that these dreams were prophetic, signaling the impending death of a family member, while others thought they represented sexual elements or fears of growing older. However, until now, there was limited empirical research on the subject.
“I thought it was quite enigmatic that one of the most universally prevalent dreams (teeth falling out) depicted an experience that rarely describes the experiences of adults in real life,” explained study author Nirit Soffer-Dudek, the director of The Consciousness and Psychopathology Laboratory at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “Thus, the continuity principle of dreaming (the fact that we dream about what occupies our mind in waking) could not be a central explanation for these dreams, and another principle had to be identified as an explanation.”
This investigation, part of a larger study on dissociation and related constructs, involved 210 participants, mostly college students (age range: 18–28). The researchers administered questionnaires to assess various factors, including dream themes, psychological distress, dental irritation, and sleep quality. Of particular interest were two aspects of dental irritation: teeth grinding during sleep and the sensation of teeth tension or tenderness upon awakening.
The researchers used the Dream Motif Scale (DMS), which consisted of 100 dream themes measured on a 5-point scale to assess the lifetime frequency of experiencing particular dream content. They focused on four items, including the one related to teeth dreams. To measure psychological distress, the researchers employed the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), a comprehensive 53-item survey that evaluated various psychological symptoms experienced by participants in the past month.
Additionally, they utilized the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to assess sleep quality over the previous month, including the presence of sleep disturbances. The study also included self-report questions related to dental irritation, specifically teeth grinding during sleep and sensations of teeth tension upon awakening, as well as their frequency in the past month.
The researchers found a significant connection between teeth dreams and dental irritation, specifically teeth tension upon waking. This means that people who experienced dreams of their teeth falling out were more likely to report sensations of tenderness or tension in their teeth, gums, or jaws when they woke up.
The findings indicate “that dreams reflect not only psychological processes but also physical ones, and that dreams of teeth falling out, especially if coupled with a sense of jaw discomfort in the morning, may reflect the presence of teeth grinding in one’s sleep,” Soffer-Dudek told PsyPost.
Interestingly, this correlation was not observed with teeth grinding, even though it is commonly associated with dental irritation. The researchers suggested that many individuals may be unaware of their teeth grinding during sleep but become conscious of dental stimulation following sensations around the oral cavity upon awakening.
Moreover, the study revealed that teeth dreams were not related to psychological distress or sleep quality, debunking the idea that these dreams are primarily driven by psychological concerns.
The lack of a connection between teeth dreams and psychological distress came as a surprise. “I thought we would find a stronger correlation between dreams of teeth falling out and psychological distress,” Soffer-Dudek said.
This finding challenges the traditional view that dreams of teeth falling out are symbolic representations of psychological turmoil. Instead, the study suggests that these dreams may have a physical basis, rather than being purely symbolic of psychological symptoms.
While the study provides valuable insights into the enigma of teeth dreams, it also has its limitations. The study’s sample primarily consisted of college students, which could potentially limit the generalizability of the findings to other populations. Additionally, the assessment of dental irritation relied on self-report measures, which may not always be entirely accurate.
“This was a preliminary, cross-sectional study and the effect size was modest,” Soffer-Dudek explained. “Thus, replications are needed as well as longitudinal studies. Also, the modest effect size means that jaw and teeth discomfort explained only a bit of the variance in such dreams, so there remains much to be explained. Finally, we need studies on samples with dental issues to shed more light on these mechanisms.”
Future research in this intriguing field could involve larger and more diverse samples, encompassing a broader range of age groups and backgrounds. Researchers might also explore other physical sensations, such as gum soreness, toothaches, or even dental procedures, to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between dream themes and physical discomfort during sleep.
In summary, the study conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University has made significant strides in unraveling the mystery of teeth dreams. While the exact mechanisms behind these dreams are not yet fully understood, the findings suggest that they may have a physical basis related to dental irritation, rather than solely representing symbolic expressions of psychological distress.
So, the next time you find yourself in the midst of a teeth dream, take a moment to reflect on how your teeth feel when you wake up – there could very well be a connection between the vivid images in your dreams and the physical sensations in your mouth. This study reminds us that dreams, even the most peculiar ones, can offer intriguing insights into the complex relationship between our bodies and our subconscious minds.
The study, “Dreams of Teeth Falling Out: An Empirical Investigation of Physiological and Psychological Correlates“, was authored by Naama Rozen and Nirit Soffer-Dudek.