Monday, May 19, 2014

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Teeth (apologies to Annie Lennox)

Have you ever dreamed about your teeth?  Dreams about your teeth or dreams that your teeth are falling out are surprisingly common.  You might not be surprised that I see teeth in my dreams, however, I had dreams about teeth long before becoming a dental hygienist.

So what do dreams about teeth mean?  Dream analysis has been around for a long time.  From Joseph’s prophetic dreams in the bible to the surreal dream paintings of Salvador Dali̒, dreams tantalize and fascinate people. Freud proposed that a person’s dreams hold deeper meaning that can be interpreted only by analyzing its details using (his) psychoanalytic methods.  In Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” he illustrates this method using his own dreams.  He describes a dream about a patient he treated who was also his good friend.  Her treatment was not as successful as he would have hoped.  In the dream Freud attempts to give his friend an oral exam, which she resists and he imagines she must have false teeth!  After exploring all the details of his dream, Freud concludes his dream uncovers a desire to gain back the respect of a person who is very important to him.  Freud believed that all dreams are the “(disguised) fulfilment of a (suppressed, repressed) wish.”(1) 

Modern pop culture puts dream analysis squarely in the realm of entertainment like horoscopes or psychic readings.  Websites abound that make suggestions as to why we dream about particular subjects.  Although studies have been conducted to explore what happens to the brain while dreaming, there is little scientific basis to dream analysis.  It is very subjective.  It would be difficult to pinpoint what any dream means to any given person without understanding that person’s perspective, history and environment.  The physiology and anatomy of the brain, like any other organ, may not vary much from person to person but the experiences of each individual can vary greatly and will influence the brain's performance and reactions.   The structure and function of the heart is the same in all, but the heart of an athlete will be much more prepared to run a marathon than the heart of a person who smokes two packs a day.  So it is difficult to say what causes teeth dreams or what the meaning of teeth dreams would be to different individuals.  Still, dreaming about the teeth is a very common occurrence.  (Perhaps not so surprising if we consider that (almost) everyone has them!)  Analysis of teeth dreams offer a variety of interpretations including issues of self-esteem, concern about money, death, fear of death or loss of a loved one, and even lying and deception.

In the dental profession, it is generally accepted that the health of the teeth and self-esteem are linked.  There are thousands of advertisements and sites from cosmetic dentists to implant dentists and orthodontists touting various procedures as a way to improve the way we look and feel about ourselves.  A recent study in the U.K. revealed that tooth loss might affect the way people feel about themselves both socially and psychologically.  Some of the people in the study reported staying home because of the condition of their teeth and compared tooth loss to the loss of a limb.(2)  An Italian study confirmed that having misaligned teeth could affect the “psychosocial well-being” of adolescents.(3)

If the condition of the teeth is a contributing factor to how attractive a person feels, then teeth are an important element of self-esteem.  But this depends on individuals and the importance they place on their teeth, as well as cultural and other factors.  Dentists and dental hygienists know that some patients value their dental health much more highly than others.  So the reasons that people dream about their teeth must be as varied as people themselves!  And how could a dream about the teeth falling out or rotting be the fulfillment of any kind of wish as Freud proposed? Teeth dreams, generally, are pretty disturbing.  Perhaps the horror of the dream forces the person to realize that he or she wishes to do, wants to do, or should be doing something different.  Or maybe it’s just guilt over eating that last piece of chocolate cake!
I welcome your comments and thoughts!

(1) The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud (1913) Third Edition, translated by A.A. Brill.  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913.  New York:, 2010
(2) Rousseau, N., Steele, J., May, C. and Exley, C. (2014), ‘Your whole life is lived through your teeth’: biographical disruption and experiences of tooth loss and replacement. Sociology of Health & Illness, 36: 462476. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12080
(3) Perillo L, Esposito M, Caprioglio A, Attanasio S, Santini AC, Carotenuto M.Orthodontic treatment need for adolescents in the Campania region: the malocclusion impact on self-concept. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2014 Mar 19;8:353-9. doi: 10.2147/PPA.S58971. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 24672229; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3964173

This information is not intended to treat or diagnose any dental or medical condition.  If you have a medical or dental concern, please seek treatment from a medical or dental professional. 

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