You’re in the middle of one of your favorite dreams (you know, the one where you and Beyoncé are hanging out and eating tacos together) when it suddenly happens: Your jaw starts to hurt and a tooth tumbles out of your mouth. And then another one falls out and then another one. You wake up in a panic and quickly run your tongue around your gums. Phew—it was just a dream. But it’s not like this is the first time this has happened. What gives? Here, seven possible explanations for the ultra-common (but super-scary) teeth-falling-out dream.
1. Afraid of Failure
“Dreaming that your teeth are falling out could mean that you’re afraid of looking bad or failing at an upcoming event or even that you’re afraid of losing your power in some way,” says licensed psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D. Because adult tooth loss is a permanent adversity (without dental surgery), this type of dream reflects the extreme intensity of the person’s fears.
2. The Fear of Losing Control
Sigmund Freud believed that these types of dreams were a sign of sexual anxiety (of course he did). Specifically, he argued that teeth falling out represents the feeling of being powerless. (He also had some interesting thoughts about how losing one’s teeth is similar to castration, but we’ll save that for another time.) Has work become too overwhelming? Are your kids becoming teenagers or leaving the nest soon? Consider if there’s a situation in your life where you feel helpless (and what you can do to remedy that).
3. General Anxiety
Here’s the theory: When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you’re more likely to grind your teeth at night. This action in and of itself can cause you to dream about your teeth (sort of like how you dream about water when you have to pee). “Dreaming about losing your teeth can happen from the strain in your jaw muscles that results from anxiety,” says licensed mental health counselor GinaMarie Guarino. “Stress causes tension in your body. This can cause you to grind your teeth, which may cause you to dream about losing your teeth as a result of your jaw clenching, something you’re not able to process consciously while asleep.”
4. You’re Worried About What People Think of You
Have you been feeling self-conscious or vulnerable lately? “Teeth are important in our American culture, as we hold a beautiful smile as a positive, desirable trait,” explains psychologist Nancy Irwin, Psy.D. “Dreaming about losing them can indicate the dreamer is fearful about their self-image or how the world sees them.”
5. The Fear of Losing Something
“Having your teeth fall out in your dream can be symbolic of the fear of losing something in your life,” says Guarino. “Sometimes the thing that you fear losing is evident and sometimes it’s not.” And it doesn’t have to be a future loss that you’re concerned about—maybe something happened a while ago but you haven’t worked through all your emotions surrounding the loss. “The anxiety that can stem from losing something important to you can cause you to dream about losing something else that is important to you—like your teeth.”
6. You’re Worried About Something You Said
Dream therapist Kelly Sullivan Walden has this interpretation: “Because teeth are located in the mouth, any dream about them could relate to matters of communication or your ability to process or ‘chew’ on data.” If you have a dream about losing your teeth, she suggests clearing up any communication that may have gone awry. “If your teeth are breaking or crumbling, you may be dealing with passive-aggressive issues, like withholding your expression when it’s important for you to speak up,” she adds.
7. Something Is About to Change
Changing jobs or moving homes? Or maybe you’re getting married in a couple of days. A common interpretation of this freaky dream is that you’re in a transitional period in your life. That’s because teeth falling out represents the passage of time, which is more evident around major life events. So what’s the fix? Take a deep breath and remember: You’ve got this.