The most unsettling thing about the very creepy premiere of Syfy’s new anthology horror series, Channel Zero: Candle Cove, was the brief appearance of a shambling creature made entirely of human teeth. The Tooth Child, as it’s known, is an orthodontic nightmare, but it’s not the only dental-related scare on TV right now. American Horror Story frightened viewers with a hailstorm of teeth during its season premiere. Earlier this summer, we dealt with the opposite dental issue in Dustin — the (second) most charming character on the biggest horror hit of the year, Stranger Things, is missing his teeth.
There are a couple of different theories and reasons as to why teeth are so disturbing, but ultimately they are a very real, universal bit of literally nightmarish body horror.
Teeth belong in your head, and unlike fish, most of us only have two sets of teeth to last us our lifetime. Sure, flossing is a pain, but if something happens to your teeth, it’s hard to eat or function. Tooth loss is a universal, permanent change, and it’s eerie. Remember how small a lost tooth looked in your hand when it was just a foreign object, compared to how big it felt in your mouth when it was a part of you?
A 2013 study in the journal Pastoral Psychology found that various tooth fairy myths around the world were created to help children cope with the loss of their baby teeth — which, again, are pieces of their face that just start falling out one day.
One of the more commonly reported recurring dreams is the classic “teeth falling out” or “crumbling teeth” nightmare. Richard Nicoletti, J.D., a Jungian psychotherapist, told the Huffington Post that Western culture tends to fear aging, and that losing teeth can be a potent metaphor for the inevitability of death. A study in American Anthropologist found that almost 21 percent of Americans had a dream about their teeth falling out, while just 16 percent of Japanese subjects had the same dream.
Nicoletti also said the dreams could suggest powerlessness. “When the teeth fall out, one’s survival is challenged, one’s ability to eat, so it could mean disease.”
However, there are lots of other interpretations. Sigmund Freud, who was wrong about a lot of things, thought it had something to do with fear of castration, natch. Lauri Loewenberg, founder of thedreamzone.com, says the dream is an expression of regret for talking shit.
For whatever reason you ascribe to a tooth-loss dream, there’s no denying how common the nightmare is; there’s something inherently upsetting about teeth being where they don’t belong, and Channel Zero and AHS recognize this. But really, can you imagine what the Tooth Child’s annual dental checkup would be like?