Dreams about teeth falling out or breaking is the most common nightmare adults have. I know this because I’ve looked it up a few times. Online, there exists the most out-there interpretations, like ‘you are about to have an argument with your sibling’ to the more general ‘you are experiencing stress.’ It’s like Horoscopes, these dream interpretations. A fun rabbit hole to waste time on but scientifically speaking, it’s all bullshit. Or poetry. Or both.
About 30 years ago I watched a friend, let’s call him Andy, take too much acid and stand at the top of a long line of wooden stairs in a tenement house somewhere in New Jersey right outside of NYC, and literally fall onto his face. Onto his front teeth, to be precise. A straight-backed-flat fall. His body, all 6 feet 3 or so inches of skinny rock star maybe-he-also-does-heroin-but-comes-from-a-good-family body fell without bending or crumpling. Just like a toy soldier. Thwap. I watched it happen. His teeth crunched. He was so stoned I don’t think it hurt. I don’t remember the rest of the night. I was dating a guy in the band, the lead singer, who was also on acid. I was not. Someone drove (maybe it was me) to a hospital where Andy had his face stitched up. I think we were in Jersey City and I think the band had just played at Maxwells in Hoboken and I think it was an after party but it was seedy, this apartment, and in retrospect I think the band had gone there to score drugs and I was just the girlfriend along for the ride, the good catholic girl who maybe smoked a bit of weed. His teeth broke in front of me and I’ve never forgotten the scene of Andy, howling with laughter as blood poured out of his face, the psychedelics kicking in.
For years after this, I’ve had dreams of falling like that. Onto my teeth. Usually I’m falling and my arms are paralyzed and I jut out my neck to use my chin to brace the fall and my chin and teeth hit the concrete first, shattering. I wake up sweating.
Or, I’ll just be somewhere and my teeth will literally fall out. No blood, no pain. The teeth just exit my gums, a parachute-less ejection. I don’t even know where they go. I’m just left toothless and gummy to continue the conversation in the dream.
I am a teeth grinder. I don’t know how long I’ve been doing this, I just know that I am because in the past 2 years, I’ve lost 2 teeth to fractures and have had to choose between holes in my mouth, expensive implants or bridges. I have 3 or 4 (I’ve lost track) crowns over damaged and cracked molars. I had an appointment to get a crown on one that is just about to go and then, whammo, the pandemic hit and now I’m cautiously avoiding hard foods on the left side of my face. I only like the dentist for one thing: Nitrous. The 30 minutes of a legal high I can get while a drill is in my mouth. It’s literally the only way I can go through anything involving my teeth without a complete panic attack, so I’m allowed the nitrous despite the fact that the high I get from it feels like Oxy or that one time I smoked heroin after a Sub Pop New Year’s Eve party at CBGB’s because my boyfriend in the rock band was doing a record with Paul Kolderie who’d produced Nirvana. I snorted free cocaine like a supermodel that night and I had the best time of my life but I’m sure I was the typical annoying chatterbox actress on coke. The boyfriend and I left and somewhere in the middle of the night he said, ‘I have some heroin – do you want to smoke it?’ and I, being of the resolute mind that I did not have any kind of addictive personality (um….?) thought, sure, I’m up for the adventure. I’ll try anything once. (Looking back: I was so stupid…and lucky). And watching The Marx Brothers and smoking heroin (or snorting it, I can’t remember which) I just sunk into the couch and thought, back then, this is so boring.
Ok, long sidetrack story about drugs. This will all relate, I promise. Back to the teeth…
I’ve broken so many teeth and for years it was a mystery until I read something somewhere about people who have experienced trauma grind their teeth to breaking. And then yesterday I finished Allison Moorer’s beautiful memoir Blood and she talks about her teeth and her grinding and I wanted to call her, if I had her number, and tell her “ME TOO!!!!” And hug her and make her my new BFF because I think she’s an incredible writer and a beautiful person and I love her voice and once I opened for her and she was kind although I’m fairly sure she was in the middle of a hard divorce but we talked about shoes and she hooked me up with her friend in Austin who sold me and Charlie Faye shoes at Charlie’s house and I haven’t seen her since. Allison. Moorer. Grinds her teeth too. Grinds them to breaking.
Grinding. Clenching. Holding on. When we are in fear we fight, flight or freeze. Or we do all of these and get stuck. I actually think freeze is the need to fight and fly without anyone to punch or anywhere to go. Freeze is the stuck. Freeze has no options but to wait it out.
Animals freeze but they have the neuroanatomical knowledge to shake it off. Humans don’t have the shake off. So we stuck in freeze.
Right now, we are all, collectively, in a state of freeze.
Except Huck. Except the littles. My son is 2 and has no idea that the world is going through collective trauma. All he knows is Mommy and Daddy are home all the time, he gets to go to the creek every day to throw rocks, and we can watch Nemo and Lion King and Pooh more than he’s ever been allowed to watch anything. He’s so happy. Laughing and playing and running to play catch. And then melting down so quickly when I say “no” to anything, throwing his entire body on the floor and screaming ‘no no no no no no’ and wailing like the world has betrayed him. I let him cry a bit, I rub his back and try to soothe him. Then, I divert his attention with juice or Pooh or his woobie or “let’s go ride your bike” (a stroller/bike). It’s a whiplash. But this is his ‘shake off’. He screams, fights, runs and flops, flight, and then does that silent cry thing. Freeze. Then he shakes off, grabs the toy and is back laughing again, red faced, tear stained, but having completely forgotten what wrecked him a second ago.
I wish it was that easy for us adults. Instead, we clench and grind and break our teeth.
He cries at night at around 10 or 11pm. Then soothes himself back to sleep. I have caught him sucking on a finger or his thumb and I count up the future orthondontal bills. Our pediatrician told me that his 2 year old molars will probably come up soon. That the gums in the back of his mouth are pushing up so that the teeth will cut soon. That’s probably why he wakes and cries. That’s why he’s sucking on fingers. That’s why he’s drooling. He’s teething again They’re forming and pushing through the skin like a volcano about to erupt.
My son’s teeth are coming in. Mine are cracking and falling out.
My son feels no trauma while the world stops in freeze. I have the skills from therapy to work through the freeze in trauma but my teeth crack because no matter the meditative self-soothing tools, at night, my jaw betrays me. I clench and hold on tight. Nobody to fight. Nowhere to run.
So we freeze. We make do. We make bread. We eat cheese and pizza and brownies. We get on web calls with old friends and are patient when the screens freeze up momentarily. We see these old friends with grey hair and lines on their eyes as the same friends when they were 18 or 20. We spend more time on our devices, just to feel connected to people, to the world, as we are shut in our own bubbles. Exercising in living rooms and basements. Our molars are pushing through our skin, something is changing, breaking through a closed surface. Some of us don’t believe the hype and brazenly walk amongst the world unmasked, angry, defiant. Some of us huddle in fear, blankets over our heads.
The 2 year molars will hurt. Huck will cry. But he’ll get over it. As we do. And in a few years all of his teeth will fall out giving way to his adult teeth. One day he may fall straight-back flat on his face. He’ll get stitches. There will be blood and tears. I’ll cry too. But we will get through it.
I don’t have faith in that much, certainly not anyone on TV. But I do have faith in resilience.
I wear a nightguard, anyway, just in case.