Most children and parents are accustomed to the age old tale of the tooth fairy – the tiny little fairy that collects baby teeth from underToot_Fairy childrens’ pillows in exchange for currency, equal to the value of the tooth. Somehow this tradition has wound up in all our households but we don’t seem to recognize where the Tooth Fairy’s story began and surprisingly enough it is only the Western world that practices the baby-tooth-for-money tradition. Around the world many other cultures have their own version of the Tooth Fairy and with that their own traditions.
The earliest form of baby tooth traditions began in some of the earliest recordings of human time. B. R. Townend in 1960 compiled some of these rituals:
“(1) the tooth was thrown into the sun; (2) thrown into the fire; (3) thrown between the legs; (4) thrown onto or over the roof of the house, often with an invocation to some animal or individual; (5) placed in a mouse hole near the stove or hearth or offered to some other animal; (6) buried; (7) hidden where animals could not get it; (8) placed in a tree or on a wall; and (9) swallowed by the mother, child or animal.”
These rituals of offering up the baby tooth to a strong-toothed animal like a rodent was believed to grant the child teeth as strong as a rodent in the future. raton-perezThis was practiced across Europe, Russia, New Zealand and even Mexico before the 1900s. This led to the tradition of idolizing not a fairy but a mouse in Europe. In Spain the tooth-mouse is called, Ratóncito Pérez and in France referred to as, La Petite Souris. In Madrid a museum was built surrounding the character of Ratóncito Pérez (which you can view here:
So if the “Tooth Fairy” was actually a “Tooth Mouse” where on Earth did the fairy aspect come from? The European “good fairy” was a new concept in the 1900s and started being incorporated into childrens’ movies and books; thus these two ideas merged to form the Tooth Fairy, who quite frankly was much more inviting than the Tooth Mouse. Her first appearance was in a play written by Esther Watkins Arnold in 1927.
Okay so now we know where this character came from, and some of the rituals contributing to the tradition we all know, but how did monetary compensation get involved? Many scholars believe that losing a baby tooth and growing an adult one is one of life’s first milestones into adulthood and money can symbolize some of the responsibilities, choices and benefits of becoming an adult (in which Cindy Dell Clark mentions in her book “Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith,” suggests is an American contribution to this tradition).

The traditions of the Tooth Fairy doesn’t just stop in Europe and North America. In Asia, when children lose their teeth instead of placing it under their pillows at night they throw them! According to which jaw you lost the tooth from, the child would throw the tooth in the opposite direction – example, if the child lost their tooth from the lower jaw they would throw the tooth onto a rooftop. Along with this, children will wish for the tooth of a rodent in it’s place – again to acquire continually growing big and strong teeth. It is also seen that in central Asia like Mongolia, children will put their fallen teeth in animal fat and feed it to a dog (to obtain strong teeth like a dog) or bury them under trees, so their roots will be as rigid as a tree. In the Middle East and Northern Africa children also throw their teeth, but solely to the sky (this tradition possibly dates back to the 13th Century, wow!). In South Africa, they follow the same American tradition but instead of using a pillow they place their baby teeth into a slipper.
Most of this Tooth Fairy hunting can be attributed to Rosemary Wells from Northwestern University Dental School, who accredited herself as the Tooth Fairy consultant. She has uncovered a lot of the history behind the worlds traditions surrounding the Tooth Fairy.

Comment and let us know if we missed any fun and fascinating tooth traditions you participate in!


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