Today, when your child loses a tooth, they most likely expect a visit from the tooth fairy. Many children now receive coins or dollar bills from the tooth fairy, while some get toys or edible treats instead. But where did the tooth fairy come from? Read on to learn more about the weird history of the tooth fairy!
The traditions that go along with losing baby teeth are called “shed tooth rituals” by anthropologists and folklorists. In some cultures, it is customary to plant baby teeth in the ground once they are lost. For centuries in Europe, people buried their baby teeth to encourage the new growth of their adult teeth, and to protect their baby teeth from falling into the hands of a witch!
While the origins of the tooth fairy vary from culture to culture, most of the stories actually involve mice! Back in the days when people lost even their adult teeth very early in life because they did not have access to proper oral care, they noticed that mice always had plenty of teeth to chew through their walls. This is because mice teeth always grow back, so people began to associate mice with strong teeth. People would leave their baby teeth out as offerings for mice, hoping that giving them their teeth would help their own human teeth grow back stronger, just like the mice.
The Tooth Trade
Historians believe that the tradition of ‘trading’ baby teeth for money or treats began in France, where children would place a lost tooth in their shoes overnight. In the morning, the child would wake up to find that le petit souris (the little mouse) had taken their tooth and left them a coin. This developed into a barter system, 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, who 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 clear source. Instead, she is a combination of many different traditions and cultures. 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!
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! Does the tooth fairy visit your house? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below!