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I'm worried about my undue tooth concern.
December 17, 2009 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I am beginning to worry irrationally and frequently about the possibility of my teeth falling out when they are obviously fine, Is this something I should talked to a therapist about?

Okay, I don't have the best Oral health in the world, I won't lie about that, but right now? I have no unfilled cavities, no pain, occasionally a little blood on my brush, but beyond that? No real problems. Still, over the last couple of months I've been getting really really afraid that my teeth are going to fall out, not even the realistic rot away falling out either, more like when your milk teeth fall out. I'm spending hours at a time tonguing at one immovable tooth where I think I felt a little bit of looseness, or searching the top parts where they fit into the gums for a gap that might suggest one of them is starting to weaken.

I mentioned it to a friend of mine today, and realized for the first time that this is really really unlike me. I rarely even worry about things that are important, and I don't tend to dwell on things like illnesses I might get, or bad things that might happen. So I guess my question is, is this something I should worry about in terms of like, I don't know, a psychological problem? I've never had any issues in that area before, so I don't know if this is the kind of thing that they manifest as, and like I say, normally I'd just forget about it, but I've been worrying about my teeth progressively since around the start of October when I went back to university.

My university has free mental health staff (I'm afraid that's as specific as I can get, because I've only heard about this briefly in freshers week) to work with students, so money isn't likely be too much of an issue in whether or not I'm able to go and see someone, I'd just prefer not to waste anyone's time if this is just normal healthy worrying I'm doing.

If I'm just being stupid I'd really love to be told that, but it's bothering me that this is at once so persistent, to out of character for me, and so irrational.

Full disclosure: I have been watching a lot of The Sopranos lately. I don't think I'm that easily swayed? But I don't like to give myself too much credit either...
posted by emperor.seamus to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
 
Several things are happening here that make me think you should seek help:

You're worrying persistently about something which you know isn't rational. You're having repetitive, intrusive thoughts that you can't control. And you've noticed that you're thinking in a way which is very unusual for you.

These are all signs that you'd benefit from a chat with a mental health care professional. Don't worry, nobody's going to say you're crazy, and no-one will accuse you of wasting anyone's time. It's good that you've recognised there'a problem and you want to get it addressed.

My armchair, non-professional guess would be that you're suffering garden-variety anxiety and it's manifesting in an unusual way. But please, go along to the clinic and speak to a professional. That's what they're there for.
posted by embrangled at 9:41 PM on December 17, 2009


It's never a waste of time to visit a mental health professional if you are concerned about something like this...I believe they're quite happy to see patients and help them out any way they can.

Having said that, your problem is probably only serious if these thoughts about your teeth are intrusive. Are they distracting you when you are trying to work or otherwise live your life? Do they keep you up at night? Do you have mental images of being toothless that cause you extreme anxiety? These would be concerns. Otherwise, this just might be some kind of mental tic that will go away.

Even if these are intrusive thoughts, this might only be the start of a phobia, and not a sign of a more serious issue like GAD...here, even, a psych could help you with techniques to deal with it, so it might be worth dropping by (not as scary as it sounds).

On the pop psychology front, you sound as if you are in first year university? Could this tooth obsession be a way of transferring your anxiety about other issues? Sort of like how people obsessively clean in order to avoid doing real work?
posted by hiteleven at 9:44 PM on December 17, 2009


Sounds to me like you're getting hinky about something else-- your grades, your social life, whatever-- and you're obsessing over your teeth instead. Chat up your school counselor and do a quick assessment of where you're at in all regards *except* your teeth.

You could be grinding your teeth in your sleep, too, out of anxiety. Along with the counselor, I'd check in with your dentist just in case that could be part of the problem.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:48 PM on December 17, 2009


If I'm just being stupid I'd really love to be told that, but it's bothering me that this is at once so persistent, so out of character for me, and so irrational.

It's not stupid to be concerned about your worry. Whether or not it's healthy worry (whatever that is) depends on how much of your time it takes up and how much of your energy is devoted to it. Definitely go see the free mental health staff and sort it out.
posted by Paris Elk at 9:59 PM on December 17, 2009


If you're spending hours a day dealing with it, there could be any number of things going on...

Something intense and stressful like the Sopranos can definitely have an impact on your mental health. Maybe cut that out and see what happens? Interesting series, but the violence is disturbing. There's nothing wrong with being affected by realistic depictions of violence. It's pretty natural human behavior!
posted by kathrineg at 10:09 PM on December 17, 2009


See the free mental health professional. If the worry is getting in the way of your day-to-day activities, i.e. becoming time-consuming/time-wasting, it's fine to take that step. Also, perhaps see if your school or a neighboring school has a dentistry program. If so, maybe you could schedule a free student checkup just to reassure yourself that all is well in your mouth. Or see a dentist, if you are due for a cleaning anyway.
posted by xiaolongbao at 10:09 PM on December 17, 2009


And in case it's not clear, it could be any number of things going on, and because you don't know, it's best to consult someone who can sort things out.

Bleeding gums isn't that great. Maybe not so bad, either. Maybe another visit to the dentist is in order to give you an unshakable rational basis from which to launch a productive treatment/approach to your anxiety.
posted by kathrineg at 10:11 PM on December 17, 2009


Excellent, excellent answer above from embrangled.

In dreams, teeth falling out is a representation of powerlessness. Losing your edge, not being able to fight back, etc. It fits well with anxiety and stress issues.

Go see a professional and get checked out. It can only help.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:32 PM on December 17, 2009


Even if these are intrusive thoughts, this might only be the start of a phobia, and not a sign of a more serious issue like GAD

Mental health professionals try to refrain from diagnosing people over the internet in AskMe, so I kinda think non-MH professionals should do the same. These symptoms are not even necessarily indicative of GAD or a phobia, so I don't know why it would be helpful to tell an already anxious person that they might be.

OP, take advantage of the free services! A lot of people would kill to have that chance themselves, and it will help settle your mind to talk to someone who can assess your situation and symptoms.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:54 PM on December 17, 2009


Mental health professionals try to refrain from diagnosing people over the internet in AskMe, so I kinda think non-MH professionals should do the same. These symptoms are not even necessarily indicative of GAD or a phobia, so I don't know why it would be helpful to tell an already anxious person that they might be.

Point out the part where I make a diagnosis. I said that the OP might have certain conditions based on symptoms they described.

If a poster came on here and said "I have a big growing lump in my tummy and I'm feeling sick every morning," would it be improper of me to respond "you might be pregnant"?
posted by hiteleven at 11:02 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good advice above, but I've found the best way to alleviate anxiety about my health is to make sure I'm 100% up on preventative care. Things never quite seem so bad when you know you've done everything within your power to make things right.

You might be happy to know I completely reversed my gingivitis by taking omega-3, a high-potency B-complex, co-Q-10, extra C and a strong multivitamin, using a rubber gum stimulator, flossing and using Listerine twice a day. I have no idea which part of that was the main reason I got well-- but when I got a clean bill of oral health at my dental checkup, who cares? In my case, tightening up my oral care regime was the best way to chill out.
posted by aquafortis at 1:04 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been worrying about my teeth progressively since around the start of October when I went back to university.

Exactly, because it's not about your teeth, it's about being back in school, and having more or greater responsibilities than before. Totally normal to be a little anxious, and have it come out indirectly. Teeth breaking or falling out is a common theme in anxiety dreams when people are a little worried that there could be things they're neglecting or forgetting to do, and as a result life is just about to tumble out of control and damage will be done. Right up there with dreaming you have to give a speech and have forgotten to wear pants, or hearing that your final exam is tomorrow and you haven't attended any classes. It wouldn't hurt to go talk to someone if the worry persists, since it's free, but talk about your life, and school, and how you're handing everything. It's not your teeth.

I am neither a therapist nor a dentist.
posted by tula at 2:11 AM on December 18, 2009


I came in here to say the same thing about dreams that SLC Mom and tula said - I have had dreams about my teeth falling out for years.

One thing that might pinpoint what your fear represents is to complete the sentence, "I'm afraid that if my teeth fall out, ________." It could be a fear of appearing ridiculous or unattractive to other people, especially if you worry about your front teeth. It could be a fear of something as established and reliable as your bones suddenly giving way and not being there anymore. It could be a fear that you can't keep up with the things everyone else seems to do, like studying or oral hygiene. It could be a fear of being seen making a mistake or admitting you need help - I knew this was my personal hot button because in my dreams I would shove my teeth back in my mouth and refuse to tell anyone. (And I knew I was getting better when I was no longer afraid to go to the dentist in my dreams.) Once you figure out the second half of that sentence, it might be a little easier to approach the fear rationally and constructively.

Absolutely take advantage of the free mental health care. There may be a wait for an appointment if it's a non-emergency (there was at my school) so call as soon as you can, and I'd recommend that if you get a visit several weeks in the future and are feeling "better" by then, go anyway, and print this question or write down a list of things you're worried about if it helps. It can only help you and it won't waste your therapist's time. Even if the fear recedes on its own, you'll want to be equipped in case it comes up again.

And if you are due for a dentist visit, go there as well, and tell your dentist about these fears. IANADentist, but since the fear of teeth falling out is a common one, your dentist will probably know what to say. You'll probably see your x-rays, too, and getting visual evidence of your teeth being firmly rooted in your head can help.

The good news is that although this is a new fear for you, it's not an unusual one, and your awareness that it's strange and not quite rational is a good thing. It frequently is the kind of thing that just goes away over time, but mental things that "just go away" can also "just come back" unannounced. Since you have free resources available to help you actively conquer it, use them!
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:39 AM on December 18, 2009


This happened to me in the aftermath of my PhD program woes. It actually sent me, uninsured, to the dentist, paying out of pocket. She found nothing, including no evidence of grinding in my sleep, and said it was probably stress-related. If you have free counselors, it generally can't hurt to go and talk to one.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:40 AM on December 18, 2009


Oh man. I have falling out teeth dreams when I'm anxious or stressed, too. I would say first, just go get a cleaning and the dentist can check out your teeth in the process. You probably don't, but you could be grinding, which could be causing subtle tension in the jaw and sensitivity, which then makes you paranoid all your teeth are falling out. If you are grinding, you can just start using a mouth guard and it makes it feel sooo much better. Seeing a therapist is a great idea too. It can seem so weird to me that talking about your problems to someone non-biased can help relieve anxiety, but it really does help.
posted by Rocket26 at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2009


Full disclosure: I have been watching a lot of The Sopranos lately. I don't think I'm that easily swayed? But I don't like to give myself too much credit either...

During a month between jobs I watched seasons 1-5 of the Sopranos. I had dreams about murdering people, my teeth-grinding got worse and I started to see the sexual appeal of James Gandolfini. I think your problems are rooted in real-time issues that have manifested themselves through fears of teeth falling out, but a vividly violent show like The Sopranos can exacerbate your anxiety.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2009


This has happened to me before. I, also, don't have the best dental health habits in the world, though I have no current problems. Sometimes when I'm stressed about something (anything), and especially if I then get high, I'll start thinking that a tooth is falling out. Once or twice I've thought it HAS fallen out.

If you've got free access to a mental health professional, then use it. I would. Hell, I'd use it all the time, whether or not I thought it was stupid.
posted by cmoj at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2009


It's an extraordinarily common dream--I've had it many times, myself, very realistic and scary. It is, as folks have said above, always related to some stressful period of my life. See a therapist, say I, not a dentist (I'm neither, by the way).
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2009


Very helpful answers all around! Thank you all very much for your input! I'll go see my university therapists when I get back there in the new year, and (by a happy coincidence) I have a dentists appointment in a couple of days anyway!

The Sopranos thing was more of a joke about only wanting to see a therapist because Tony Soprano has one, but I'm really touched by peoples concern over it! Thanks everyone again!
posted by emperor.seamus at 3:15 AM on December 19, 2009


I've had similar thoughts about my teeth too although maybe to a lesser degree of anxiety. I was freaked that I could feel movement in a front tooth if I pressed it a bit, but I was really more concerned about my gums. They were receding and looked bluish(!)

Anyway, my anxiety went away after a visit to a dentist. It had been years since my last visit. My oral hygiene was ok, not great, but I had a lot of staining from my old smoking habit and I kept putting off a dentist trip. I was going to ask the dentist about my concerns but I forgot and he never brought it up.

Other than the staining and a few cavities my teeth were fine though.

This is a longwinded way of saying I think a dentist visit would be helpful.
posted by lmm at 10:28 AM on December 19, 2009


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