I am intimately familiar with the feeling of my teeth falling out. The building sense of inevitable calamity, that something is wrong and I can’t put my finger on it and oh, it’s that supposedly permanent part of me eeking its way from my soft pink gums, descending between my outstretched fingers and clattering onto the floor.
I haven’t had an actual tooth organically fall out of my head since I was a child, but I have one of these my-teeth-are-falling-out dreams at least once a month. The scenario is so familiar to me that I can tell I’m dreaming based on the sole fact that my gums are loosening and egg-shell-white stones are falling into my hands. First I feel panic, then shame—did I forget to brush my teeth before bed? —I never learned to floss properly, and I didn’t swish fluoride in grade school, I had braces for six years resulting in puffy gums due to the difficult nature of attempting to wedge a thin piece of floss between metal brackets—pale green and pink at Easter, red and green for the Christmas season.
No matter the logical reasons for oral-phobia in my waking life, in my unconscious state I always feel that the shameful loss of my molar is no one’s fault but my own.
When I relate stories about my most frequently reoccurring stress-dream, it is common for the other party to respond with an emphatic “me fucking too.” They are similarly familiar with the feeling of waking up with a start and running tongue along gum line, emitting a sigh of relief when all is found to be in its proper place. As a testament to the commonality of this particular dream scenario I submit to you this evidence: there is actually a website titled http://www.teethfallingoutdream.org.
Last night, however, the time-honored script took an unexpected turn.
I dreamt that my tooth was meant to fall out. That it wasn’t really a tooth at all, but a placeholder. That when the piece of plastic I thought was my tooth fell from my mouth I had nothing to fear.
I was sitting in a classroom filled with polished wood and clean smells. A teacher’s assistant gesticulated at the front of the class while a sour-faced professor sat and glared at the backs of our heads. During the lecture I absentmindedly moved my tongue to my gum line, to that familiar spot where the same tooth has fallen from the same cavity on countless nights. In that moment I felt fresh horror. But instead of a pale rock I pulled from my mouth a small circle of plastic with grooves and cavities molded to fit my back molar; between my thumb and index finger I held a cap, a pasty crown.
I called the instructor over to show him this strange little piece of dull-white hardware. He examined the crown and explained that it could be easily fixed. “Hold on to it,” he said, “Go to your dentist, he’ll make another for you. It’s not like it was your tooth or anything.”
Hands gripping the sides of my chair in the warm, wooden classroom I pointed my tongue to the back of my mouth feeling for that perennially haunted spot. Where I usually found a raw gaping hole, a sad chasm, I felt instead smooth grooves just above the surface of my gum. My original tooth was still intact.
I shuddered awake and stared at the ceiling as I executed that familiar pull of the tongue along my gum line, checking the bottom of each tooth to see that every cavity remained filled: canine teeth still pointy, front teeth evenly spaced, as always.
Having entered “teeth falling out dream meaning” into my Google search bar countless times, I’m pretty familiar with the standard interpretation of this dream: I’m anxious that I’ve lost control over my life, that something of intangible importance is slipping out of my grasp—I need to let go of the old to make room for the new, but I’m ultimately afraid to allow those old comforts to slip away.
Contrary to these anxieties, quite apropos of my typically floundering, constantly questioning young-adulthood: I never imagined that my tooth had been there all along, resting beneath a jagged crown, patiently waiting to be unearthed.
I don’t know what will happen when I actually begin losing my teeth—when in later years my dreams become reality, as they most likely will due to the influences of general aging and rudimentary tooth decay. Perhaps I’m subconsciously preparing myself for the inevitable—so one day I’ll lick my soft pink gums and smile a toothless grin, because in loss there is freedom and in grief there is power.
I cradle that abstract comfort beneath my molars and in the spaces between my canine teeth, behind my ugly gums.
Night after night, filled with uncertainty and brimming with promise, my teeth will chatter briefly then fall through my fingers and bobble onto the floor. I will cup them in my hands, or sweep them under a rug, place them gingerly back in my mouth, or lick my dry lips and sigh, forever anticipating the discovery of a precious gem beneath a candy-rotten crown.