Almost all of my bad dreams involve my teeth falling out. Whatever nightmare my brain has spun for my tormented psyche, be it the recurring one about being late for work or a flight or a test, or something more Lovecraftian in form, the chances are I’ll be gummy mouthed by its end. I don’t recall many specific details of my dreams but I can always remember the horrible feeling of my teeth spontaneously loosening from my mouth and my tongue’s panicked attempts to push them back in place. I’m not entirely sure where this fear comes from. I’m one of the few people in the world who isn’t scared of the dentist — I actually find the process quite relaxing — and I’ve never undergone any major dental work aside from the drama-free removal of one of my wisdom teeth, and even then, the pain of that hurt way less than the dentist yanking my mouth open until the side of my mouth split. When my sister was younger, she went through some serious dental trauma that resulted in years of work but my fears predate that. Still, if I’m watching a movie or TV show and something oddly toothy is on-screen, I’m probably going to freak out.
The scene in BBC’s recent adaptation of Les Miserables where Lily Collins sells her two front teeth and has them pulled out? I stopped watching the show right there. That teeth creature thing from Channel Zero? Totally ruined my life. My fellow Overlords posting images of the Mouth of Sauron in the work Slack chat? Haunting (Thanks a lot, Kate, Jodi, Seth, Steven, and Dustin. You all know what you did!) I recently read a book called The Radium Girls that featured EXTENSIVE descriptions of women losing not only their teeth but entire chunks of their jawbone to radiation poisoning, and let me tell you, I shall never know peace again.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to place the origins of this fear and I think I found at least one of them. Does anyone else remember the Nickelodeon series The Journey of Allen Strange? I have this blurry memory of watching the show one day after school and seeing Dee Bradley Baker, who played the antagonist, have all of his teeth fall out. I have tried in vain to locate this specific episode and can’t for the life of me find it but I’m sure it exists, even if Google tells me otherwise. Maybe this is the Kazam Effect in full force but I’ve never been able to shake the strange rattling noise or vomit-inducing image of a mouthful of teeth being spat out.
Teeth dreams are apparently related to subconscious feelings of vanity, powerlessness, and embarrassment, but I think the fear is simply a primal reaction that we all experience during moments of body horror. It doesn’t have to be teeth but there is something especially unnerving about them. If you’ve ever seen a baby skull with its jaws packed full of teeth that have yet to push through, you’ll know just how f**king weird the body is (and don’t get me started on that time I stupidly googled hyperdontia. Big mistake!)
Let’s be honest — teeth are just kind of scary and strange on their own. We see and use them every day but don’t think about the oddness of having a mouthful of calcified structures that we must brush twice a day and endlessly floss (oh, the flossing.) It doesn’t help that they look so unnerving when they’re out of your mouth. The one time I had my wisdom teeth pulled out, the excitable dentist informed me that the extracted tooth had more roots than normal, and the sight of that bloody thing will never leave my mind. The current trends for teeth, especially with American celebrities, are the dental equivalent of the uncanny valley: Blindingly white, near-identical rows of veneers that scream money but not nature. The uniqueness of one’s teeth is odd enough to me but it’s made all the scarier when it seems like every vaguely famous person has the exact same teeth (and the process of having veneers fitted is just petrifying to me.)
All those toothy pop culture monsters and villains are united by the sheer visceral terror of that image: The overt exposure of something we and many animals all possess but with the most minor of modifications to emphasize the natural grotesque of our own bodies. The Chatterer cenobite from the Hellraiser series is a prime example of that — a creature that was clearly human at one point with its mouth painfully forced back to reveal that which is barely concealed behind our own lips. It doesn’t take much to make humans look monstrous and so much of that is rooted in our teeth.
My fear also comes from the inevitable. I’m probably going to lose a lot of, if not all, my teeth once I’m older and move into a life of dentures and pre-chewed boiled carrots. Even if I look after my teeth impeccably, the chances are I’m not keeping them until my dying days, and as someone who recently had to deal with a smothering addiction to fizzy drinks, I know that the odds are even further against me. It’s not even like I have perfect teeth to treasure as it is, but they’re mine, dammit.
So seriously, it’s not just me, right? Please tell me I’m not alone in being endlessly afraid of something inside my own mouth? If I am then this is officially the stupidest phobia I’ve had since I was a child and I became fully convinced that aliens were going to rise up out of the toilet whenever I flushed it. You can imagine how that fear manifested and how much that pissed off my mother. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to brush my teeth again. Just in case.
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