The Case of the Falling Out Fangs
(or How to take a bite out of the Tooth Fairy)
Dear Dream Detective:
I work as a dentist. Over the years, my patients have told me that they have nightmares about losing their teeth. On such occasions, I remind them that brushing their teeth is not enough. Flossing is also very important. What troubles me is that I’ve recently started having dreams that my teeth are falling out. The strange thing is that my teeth are in excellent condition. Why, then, am I having these disturbing nightmares?
Dr. Milton Millbury DDS
Elmira, New York
The dreamer is presently getting divorced from his wife after being unhappily married for 16 years.
The Solution to the Mystery
Freud discusses dreams about losing teeth, in his seminal book, The Interpretation of Dreams. He suggests that such dreams have to do with the fear of sexual impotence. Freud has a point if we understand "impotence" not in the literal sense, but symbolically. Let me explain what I mean.
Teeth are our means of incorporating the outer world, of making what is out there in here. Naturally, then, teeth symbolize our power in the world, our potency. Losing our teeth means that we fear losing our ability to be in the world effectively.
What does this have to do with you? You’re going through a divorce. This means big changes in your outer life. But it’s also a challenge to your emotional and spiritual life. Changing means dying. To undergo a significant change is to lose our primary way of dealing with people, things, events, everything. And to lose our familiar powers feels like our teeth are getting wobbly. We fear that without our teeth (i.e. without our old powers, based upon who we were) we couldn’t effectively be in the world. As a result, we would, quite literally, be unable to bite into life. We would starve to death. This is what really lies behind people’s tremendous fear of change.
While change involves death, it also involves resurrection. When we do take risks, we open ourselves to new powers, better powers. More effective teeth grow in to replace the old. So life’s risks are worth taking. Like Columbus, we must lose sight of our home if we hope to discover new lands.