Suddenly the teeth fall out: What do such nightmares mean?

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One moment everything is still fine; the other moment, you suddenly notice a violent pulling in your mouth. You quickly try to scan your teeth with your tongue – but they are suddenly suspiciously loose. Your pulse is suddenly at 180, and while you rush to the mirror in a panic, you can already feel that one tooth after the other has just gone…

Why do we dream?
“Phew, lucky you: it was all just a dream.” Many people suffer from recurring nightmares like the one about their teeth falling out. For others, it’s the feeling of being chased but unable to run away or scream for help.

But why do we dream? Brigitte Holzinger knows. She is a dream researcher, psychologist and psychotherapist and heads the Institute for Consciousness and Dream Research in Vienna. She says, “The dream is almost something like a little psychotherapy that we do every night to come to terms with certain things, to learn and to develop.”

The nocturnal (nightmare) dream factory
In this process, we are haunted not only by beautiful dreams but also by nightmares. What’s the deal with that? “There’s this thesis that the nightmare is the dream that can’t be finished because of intense emotions,” explains Holzinger, who is responsible for the “Sleep Coaching” course at the Medical University of Vienna. “The dream content was so emotionally upsetting that it almost overwhelms and wakes up the dreamer a bit. But the emotional is very important to develop.”

Generally, a distinction is made between different sleep phases. REM sleep, for example, explains Brigitte Holzinger is a specific sleep stage in which rapid eye movements occur. The brain is very active, almost as in wakefulness, but the muscles are paralyzed. In this stage, it can be said with a high degree of certainty that one is dreaming, he said. “But to this day, we can’t rule out the possibility that we don’t dream or at least have something like sleep-like processes in other stages of sleep.” But why do we remember nightmares after the fact but tend to remember nice dreams less?

Why do we remember nightmares better?
Brigitte Holzinger, a psychotherapist for integrative Gestalt therapy, says: “We assume that a figure wants to close.” She assumes that a dream that can be dreamed to its end is equivalent to a closed Gestalt – in the case of the nightmare, there can be no question of this, here, the figure has not been able to round itself off, so to speak.

“Closer neurophysiologically oriented colleagues could also say that the emotions were so strong that you woke up from it and that’s why you remember what you just dreamed,” Holzinger said.

When teeth fall out in a dream: What does it mean?
What we dream about varies from person to person. And yet some scenarios happen to many people in their sleep. One example: In a dream, one tooth after another begins to fall out. Or one is being pursued. Instead of taking your legs in your hands as quickly as possible, they suddenly feel as heavy as lead, and you can’t move an inch. But what do such dreams mean?

It’s a question the expert hears frequently, but she can’t give a universal answer: “Although there are dreams that occur in many people, they are individual. If I interpret into it and say that’s a self-esteem problem, then that’s almost an overreach and, above all, it’s not right.” Ultimately, the dreamer only knows for themself what the dream is about.

For those interested in their dreams, Brigitte Holzinger recommends tracing them individually: “Dreams want to be recreated. We assume that they have a lot to do with what we experience during the day, who we are during the day.”

When to seek professional help for regular nightmares
If the nightmares accumulate, it naturally impacts the individual’s quality of life. “Nightmare disorder is listed as a sleep disorder,” explains Holzinger, who studied psychology in Vienna and Stanford, California. Such a disorder is considered to exist when someone experiences nightmares several times a week over several months, resulting in great suffering.

Specifically, “If someone is avoiding sleep two to three times a week, for example, because they’re afraid they’ll have to experience another nightmare, resulting in much less sleep, then it would be important to seek help.”

Nightmare management through lucid dreaming?
One technique for coping with nightmares can be lucid dreaming. “Lucid dreaming – it’s also called lucid dreaming – is conscious dreaming,” explains Holzinger, who also offers seminars on the topic. It’s about becoming aware of the dream that you’re dreaming. “You can think of it as waking up into the dream. And because you realize you’re dreaming, you can then make choices.” So, she says you suddenly have the choice of waking up or acting differently, even within the dream.

The dream researcher cites an example: “One dreams of standing in front of the abyss and falling at any moment. But if you now realize that you are dreaming, you have the choice to act differently within the dream.” Since it is a dreamed scenario anyway, he said, one can also choose in the dream – instead of falling into the abyss – to fly away, for example, thus turning the nightmare into a beautiful dream. “By that I mean that this violent feeling of fear and being at the mercy of others is transformed into a feeling of happiness,” the expert said. “Because then you realize, ‘I’m not at the mercy of anyone. I have a choice. I can save myself.”

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