toddler sleeping while tooth fairy comes to visit

Weird History: The Tooth Fairy

Tooth Fairy Story

It is fairly common (pun intended) that whenever a child loses one of their baby teeth, their parents will tell them to expect a visit from the tooth fairy. Many children know that when they lose a tooth, they will receive coins or dollar bills from the tooth fairy in exchange for their teeth. Other kids receive some toys or treats instead.

But considering how common it is to hear about this story, how did it originate? Was it always a story about a magical fairy? Read on to learn more about the weird history of the tooth fairy!

Where Does the Tooth Fairy Come From

The traditions that go along with losing baby teeth are called “shed tooth rituals” by anthropologists and folklorists. These traditions date back centuries and are as varied as there are cultures around the world. In some places, it is customary to plant baby teeth in the ground once they are lost.

Tibetan rituals demanded someone crush the primary tooth between a couple of stones and then toss the dusty remains to the wind. In other places, some people would incorporate the baby teeth into parts of their clothing.

In Europe, for centuries, people buried their baby teeth to encourage the growth of healthy permanent teeth. They also did that to protect the baby teeth from falling into an evil witch’s hands! And it would appear that here in America, the tooth-for-money custom came from European traditions.

What Does the Tooth Fairy Look Like?

Mice and Trade?

While the origins of the tooth fairy vary from culture to culture, many of the stories involve mice! It is regrettable, but back in the day, most people who lost their teeth (even adult teeth) did so because they did not have access to proper oral care.

They may have noticed that mice always had plenty of teeth to chew through their walls. Mice have incisors that never stop growing, and they are strong too, so people began to associate mice with good teeth.

People would leave their baby teeth out as offerings for mice, hoping that giving them their teeth would help their human teeth grow back stronger.

Tooth Fairy Origin

No one knows how it originated, but historians believe that the tradition of ‘trading’ baby teeth for money or treats could link back to an 18th-century story in France, La Bonne Petite Souris (The Little Mouse).

Some children would place a lost tooth in their shoes overnight. In the morning, the child would wake up to find that someone had taken their tooth and left them a coin. This newly developed barter system stayed, and children began leaving their teeth out for more of a fairy figure than an actual mouse.

The American Tooth Fairy

Today’s American tooth fairy, which began to appear in popular culture in the early 1900s, is a combination of older traditions and the barter system.

Unlike Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, her story does not come directly from religious roots or one exact source. Instead, she is a combination of many different traditions and cultures. However, you might find the results of this study to be impressive. Christian children are more likely to believe in the tooth fairy than Jewish children.

It is always fascinating to discover the real and far-reaching impact of things we give for granted, just like the story of the tooth fairy.

Here in America, on average, children receive around $3.70 per tooth. Considerably more than we used to receive when we were children. Some people will give their child a little more money when they lose a molar instead of a smaller tooth.

The Tooth Fairy Today

There used to be a whole tooth fairy museum in Illinois, but unfortunately, it has closed down. She is still causing trouble at the Smithsonian, though! This story is quite prevalent in today’s society, and no signs are pointing to its departure.

The tooth fairy still keeps herself busy, appearing in numerous commercials for oral hygiene products and children’s stories. She even runs an advice column with the help of the American Dental Association!

What Does the Tooth Fairy Look Like

During the most recent pandemic, the tooth fairy made the news as some government representative in our neighboring Canada and far-away New Zealand categorized her as an essential worker. Here, you can check out how a 7-year-old asked if she should still expect a visit from the Tooth Fairy during the quarantine. Spoiler alert: yes, she could. Premier Francois Legault reassured the young girl she could expect a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

Does the tooth fairy visit your house? What is the tradition you grew up with? Our pediatric dentist will be thrilled to talk about these things during your next visit. We always make sure to make our patients as comfortable as possible during their appointments. Hope to see you soon!