A visit from the Tooth Fairy is a childhood rite of passage across the world. Losing those baby teeth and welcoming in permanent teeth is a sign that a little one is growing up. Children celebrate losing those baby teeth and receive a small reward for placing the lost tooth under their pillow. There is even a National Tooth Fairy Day to celebrate her on February 28.
However, the tradition of the tooth fairy can leave parents puzzled.
- How much should the tooth fairy leave for a tooth?
- What on earth does she want to do with these teeth anyway?
- How long do you continue this story for your children?
- Why do children receive different amounts and different treats for their teeth?
These are all questions a parent may have or be asked to explain to their child.
Of all the childhood traditions, the tooth fairy is one that is more difficult to trace the origins. There are as many stories of the tooth fairy as there are countries and communities in the world. Each one is a bit different than the last. There are stories as far back as the 19th century in France and Italy that describe such a character, but she was not called the tooth fairy. The relationship between humans and the fairy world, and in particular an exchange of money, has been a long-standing tradition in English folklore. This tradition followed the colonists to the U.S.
Bury those teeth!
Many European children used to bury their baby teeth in the garden hoping new ones might grow. When the family garden phased out of tradition and trended toward potted plants, the shift moved to burying the teeth under the pillow.
In Turkey burying teeth in prominent places could improve your future. A child may bury a tooth near a doctor’s office in hopes that they will become a doctor one day.
Protection from the tooth fairy
A much more disturbing tale comes from Ireland where the story goes that a tooth fairy would kidnap a child in the overnight and leave a fairy in their place. As a result, Irish families would bury the lost tooth to keep the fairies away.
In another version, a witch would look for a lost tooth and use it to place a curse on a child and control the child. They buried the teeth to hide them from witches.
The tooth fairy and the mouse
The tooth fairy has also appeared on the stage. “La Bonne Petite Souris”, or “Good Little Mouse” has a tooth fairy that disguises herself as a mouse. A queen is locked away by the horrible king and the mouse rips out his teeth, hides them under his pillow, and executes him. In the 1920’s the play was shown in English. The mouse continued as a tradition, with the promise that new teeth would grow back in as strong as a rodent’s teeth.
In Argentina, children place their tooth in a glass of water so that the mouse has something to drink when it arrives for the tooth. This particular tradition has a very practical history. In the 1890s, the king passed away and the queen was to rule while her young prince grew to the age of 16 and could take the throne himself. When he began to lose his teeth, he was frightened, and the queen commissioned an author to create a story to calm his fears.
Father Luis Coloma created the “tale of the Raton Perez, a small mouse who visited a sickly prince, carrying a red satchel for collecting lost teeth and leaving a small amount of money in their place. The young prince caught Perez one night, and the mouse took him around to visit other children as they sleep. The tale had a moral bent to it, as the mouse showed the prince how the other half lives, taking him to a mouse home in a repurposed biscuit box, adding in a moral about helping the poor into the end of the tale.”
The mouse also appears in South African tradition, but children here place the tooth in a slipper overnight.
In El Salvador children wait for a rabbit to come collect their tooth from under their pillow.
In Alaska children actually feed their baby teeth to animals asking the animal to bring them their new teeth.
Tossing those teeth
In Brazil and Korea, children toss their teeth onto the roof and hope that a bird will bring new healthy teeth. The bird, of course, does not want a dirty tooth, so children are encouraged to keep their teeth clean.
Dominican children throw teeth on the roof, but they are waiting for the mouse to come take them rather than a bird.
Greek children toss them on the roof too, but only with a wish for healthy new teeth. There is no animal that comes to pick them up.
In Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan they may throw them up in the air in hopes that the sun will send them healthy adult teeth.
In Japan, children toss their bottom teeth straight into the air and they toss their top teeth straight into the ground, hoping new teeth will grow in just as straight.
Nigeria takes this tradition a step farther. Nigerian boys find 8 stones and girls find 6 stones. They place the stones and their tooth in their fist and they count down from the number of stones and say “I want my tooth back” before tossing them in the air and running away as fast as they can.
In Pakistan children throw the teeth into the river as a sign of good luck.
In Viking tradition, teeth were saved. They considered necklaces made with baby teeth good luck in battle.
In Lithuania, children don’t wish to part with their teeth, so they store them in a special box. Another Lithuanian tradition is to toss the tooth into a hot stove in hopes that their new tooth would be as strong as iron.
In the Ukraine children wrap a tooth and place it in a dark corner until a new tooth grows.
American traditions affected by prosperity
By the 1950’s, in times of American prosperity, children became the center of the family household. Cinderella introduces the Fairy Godmother and in 1953 Tinkerbell is debuted. These characters raise up the image of fairies. Then in 1979, the World Book Encyclopedia lists the tooth fairy and placed her firmly in childhood history.
The U.S. also is credited with the tradition of leaving money for a tooth. Perhaps, again, because of the prosperity of the 1950’s, but also a way to mark that a child is growing up and is able to have increased agency and responsibility.
Not only has the story of the tooth fairy changed and altered with time and geography, but her rewards are adjusted as well. After all, she must keep up with inflation, right!? She originally offered about 15 cents per tooth, but today she is up to an average of almost $4 per tooth!
Fear of losing baby teeth
All children are different and develop at their own pace, but most children begin to lose baby teeth at about 6 years old. Typically the bottom teeth fall out first. Your child may indeed be anxious about the idea of losing teeth. It is a good idea to prepare them so that they are not completely blindsided by losing their first teeth. Reassure them that this is a normal experience that everyone goes through, and it is a sign of growing up. It helps to explain to them why their baby teeth must come out.
Starting at about 2 or 3 years old, it is a good idea to begin visits to the dentist. When they are comfortable at the dentist, hearing from dental pros that their teeth will likely start coming out makes it easier to understand.
Care of baby teeth
Be sure that your children are brushing even those loose teeth. Even though the tooth will come out, not keeping them clean can impact the gum and lead to infections. Also be sure that your children properly care for those new permanent teeth and protect them for lifelong tooth health.
If a child loses a tooth because of an accident or if it comes out much too early, visit a professional. A dental checkup ensures that everything is cared for properly.
The first dental visit is always a special event. Prepare your child so they know what expect. Thereafter, keep your children’s teeth in tip top shape with regular checkups at a dentist. At Danville Family Dentistry we will help you and your children to have a smile you can be proud of. Contact us today!
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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.