All my teeth metaphors at once


I dreamt that all of teeth fell out. Every single one of them spontaneously dropped from my gums. I caught them in the palm of one hand and stood helplessly.

I told two friends about my dream, one said dreaming about losing your teeth means that you’re lying about something, the other said it means you’re scared of aging.

In the dream, my teeth fell with little pain or mess. But my adult mouth was left with the toothlessness of a baby.

I think it was my baby teeth that I lost in that dream. They were small ones. Not strong adult teeth, with their long roots to hold them steady in the gums.

This tooth-dream got me thinking about growth. About transition.

It does strike me as a bit weird, the human tooth building process: We build a set of childhood teeth, lose them, return briefly to our toothless baby mouth, and then grow second, stronger set. Do other animals grow two sets of teeth like this? Or just us?

It’s a different metaphor for growth than the lifecycle of a butterfly for example – caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly – there are no awkward backward steps. All that good linear progression.

Not teeth though. No, to grow adult teeth one must move forward through an apparent regression.

I think I understand why the butterfly’s transformation is the more popular metaphor: In my own growth – intellectual, physical, spiritual – I’d rather not feel as though I am repeating the same stages. I’d like to avoid retracing my steps.

My dream leaves me with the question, does growing (up) sometimes require what looks like backwards steps?


Kelburn is a ‘nice’ suburb. It is the suburb where Victoria University of Wellington is located. So, purely for the sake of proximity, Kelburn is the suburb I’ve been living in.

Upland Road snakes its way precariously through the suburb. Down one side of the road is a steep slope, with just enough room for one row of big white houses. Their white gates are mostly closed. I spent a summer looking after one those Upland Road houses – it’s a bit like magic to slip behind such a gate; one can drop down the stairs and simply disappear.

Vincent O’Sullivan, describes rain in July as ‘a sheer glitter ringing about as if all the cutlery draws of Kelburn had been tipped out.’ I suspect there’s plenty of beautiful, shiny things that would fall out of Upland Road if you tipped it upside down.

I’ve come to think of those white houses that line Upland Road as rows of teeth. When I walk the road, I am walking the small gap between top and bottom teeth.



In Otago, where I’m from, many oamaru stone teeth line Dunedin’s harbour mouth. They are public a sculpture. A pun. The oamaru stone will deteriorate in the coastal weather over time. They’ll start to look rotten, bits will fall off, and eventually they’ll disappear.

The residents of Dunedin will watch the decay, perhaps over generations.


Another transformation – baby teeth, adult teeth, dead teeth.

It’s hard to imagine that death in Kelburn. It’s hard to imagine the pearly white houses decaying. Their whiteness is perpetual, simple; simply put on another coat of paint.

That leaves me with another question, does our growing involve some sort of death?


One thought on “All my teeth metaphors at once”

  1. Thanks for this Hayley. I was always intrigued when my grandmother would say, in response to a question about her age, that she was ‘as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.’ Sharks have multiple rows of teeth that they shed as required. Snails have about a thousand teeth. We tend to lose only a few teeth at a time as children, so generally don’t go back to a toothless stage until we are elderly… I wonder if your dream was more of a mourning of loss in general: the past and all that has happened to us: combined with a sense that we aren’t prepared for the future?


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