“My recurring dream is gross. I lose all my teeth,” said Chloe, calling into the dream segment on the PowerPack Breakfast show. “How common is this type of dream, and what does it mean?”
I’ve been doing this segment long enough now for the show’s presenters, Steve and Abbey, to kick off with good questions. They know that our dream symbols are personal.
“Do you grind your teeth?” asked Steve. “Do you have kids around you losing their teeth?”
“Do you drink too much coke?” asked Abbey.
“What else happens in the dream?” I asked.
“I don’t remember any other details. It’s just always gross.”
Chloe’s first question was easy to answer. Dreams about losing teeth are extremely common, although no two dreams – and no two dream meanings – are the same.
If the sense of loss in the dream is worrying or traumatic, the dream is processing feelings, issues, or beliefs about loss that have been triggered during the last couple of days. The details of the dream – what happened before, during, and after the loss – provide the information that puts those feelings, issues, and beliefs about loss into context and offers the basis for therapeutic work where needed.
So why dream about losing teeth? Why not losing hair, a purse or wallet, a car, a job, a baby? Look beyond dreams of losing teeth, and you’ll see that loss is a very common dream theme. (Next month I’ll blog about another caller, Cathy, who asked about her recurring dream of losing her hair and going bald.)
It all comes down to working out what the dreamer associates with teeth, and the tricky bit is that this association may well be unconscious.
Before we go there, Steve and Abbey were right to ask the questions about grinding teeth and drinking too much coke, as external stimuli and body sensations can work their way into our dreams. So if you grind your teeth while you sleep, your dreams may detect the pressure on your gums and process that feeling into your dream, though if you’re an habitual nightly teeth grinder your dreaming mind is likely to dismiss this sensation as normal, okay, nothing worth processing a dream. If your teeth are beginning to rot due to coke or other factors, this new information (pain, discomfort, niggling feelings of guilt) may find its way into your dreams in the shape of losing teeth, but it may equally take dream shape as a crumbling wall, rotting fencepost, painful boil, or any other personal symbol that your dreaming mind engages to express the sensation or feeling.
Steve’s question about being around kids who are losing teeth was an important one. On the surface, a dream of losing teeth might reflect the dreamer’s experiences of helping her children through this period. On a deeper level, we all have memories of losing our milk teeth as children, and seeing children around us go through this can trigger both conscious and unconscious experiences from our childhood that end up being processed in our dreams. Losing milk teeth tends to correspond to those years when, as a child, you’re vulnerable to people’s reactions to your gummy gaps and inevitable lisps, and when your current waking life brings up similar vulnerabilities and lapses in confidence your dreaming mind may come up with the ideal symbol: losing teeth.
If you have this dream, what do teeth represent for you?
All Chloe could tell us (and, being radio, we only had a few minutes to look at Chloe’s dream), was that there were no details other than losing teeth and this being “gross”.
The word gross intrigued me. Why did she choose this word? As a dream analyst (and keen reader of the unconscious mind in waking life too), I knew “gross” was not a random choice.
“How important are your teeth in your life, Chloe?” I asked.
“Well, appearance is not the most important thing, but my teeth are perfect, no fillings, nice and straight,” she began. “They’re important for functions like eating, but mostly they’re about image. I think how gross it would be to lose teeth.”
Immediately I noticed opposites: perfect, gross.
“This is probably about a situation in your life where you value being perfect, but you fear losing some of this edge, this perfection,” I offered.
Chloe related to the interpretation. In a consultation or therapy situation we would explore the underlying beliefs Chloe holds about the value of perfection, discover their origin, their structure, how much they drive Chloe’s day to day life, whether they inspire her or limit her, and help her to understand herself and her life more deeply as a result. Our unconscious beliefs, good and bad, can run deep and affect not only the structure but also the potential of our lives. We would then move on to change those beliefs, if Chloe wished, and rebuild them into more supportive beliefs using dream alchemy.
In other words, I guess we’d do the deep dentistry. Root canals and all. But we’d build beautiful, natural, healthy teeth with healthy roots – if we’re following the analogy – rather than do a spot of cosmetic dentistry with superficial veneer.
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