Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are the 3 central figures in Northern American children’s mythology. Friendly, happy creatures visiting in the night with money or gifts in tow always enchant the imagination, and most of us are awash with nostalgia upon thinking about these 3. But while the origins of Kris Kringle and the Easter Bunny are fairly well documented, the mythology surrounding the Tooth Fairy is much less understood.
As recently as the 1970s, a radio host in Chicago made a reference to the Tooth Fairy. Staff at the American Dental Association were then bombarded with calls from curious people who wanted more information about the tooth fairy. And unfortunately, no one on staff really knew how to help.
Now, we’re in the information age, which means that answers to questions like this are available with a few strokes of a keyboard. Because our goal is to help patients with any and all of their dental care questions, the Amherst Village Dental team is here to talk about the history of the Tooth Fairy and why we began to invite this friendly spirit into our homes.
Tooth Traditions In History
The Tooth Fairy as we know her—a generous spirit who exchanges a few coins or dollars for your baby teeth—is a relatively new creation. But her origins began thousands of years ago, spanning continents, religions and languages.
Every recorded culture has some ritual involving the disposal of baby teeth. Early Norse and European traditions dictated that children buried their baby teeth in order to spare them from hardships in their next life. In some Scandinavian cultures, parents took their children’s baby teeth and kept them, believing that their teeth would bring luck during battles.
There are more general traditions of the tooth fairy as well around Europe, usually arising from popular literature. Most of these stories involve a good or benevolent fairy who exchanges small gifts or coins for lost teeth.
Tooth Fairy Traditions Across The Globe
Today, many countries still participate in tooth fairy traditions.
France – La Petite Souris
In France, a little mouse, La Petite Souris, visits children in the night and leaves behind money or sweets. Likely, La Petite Souris arises from the 17th-century tale called La Bonne Petite Souris, in which a fairy turns into a mouse to help the queen defeat an evil king. In the story, La Petite Souris hides under the king’s pillow and makes him drop all of his teeth.
Ireland – Anna Bogle
Anna Bogle is a mischievous young leprechaun girl who knocked out her front tooth while playing in the forest one day. Feeling self-conscious, Bogle sneaks around Ireland and takes the discarded teeth of human children, looking for a perfect fit. But Anna is not one to steal, so she thanks the children by leaving behind a piece of leprechaun gold.
Belarus – зубная фея (Tooth Fairy Mouse)
Children in Belarus put their lost teeth in mouse holes with the hope that the mouse will give them a strong tooth as a replacement. These mice are hard at work every day of the year except for Christmas Day—if Belarus children give their teeth on Christmas day, the mouse is doomed to die.
Japan – Straight Up or Straight Down
Japanese children don’t entertain mice, leprechauns or fairies. Rather than waiting for gifts or goodies, Japanese youngsters throw their teeth straight up or straight down. If an upper tooth falls out, they throw it directly into the ground. And if a lower tooth falls out, they throw it straight into the air. They do this to ensure that their permanent teeth grow in straight and healthy.
Sweden – Tandfe
The Swedish tandfe is similar to the American Tooth Fairy. Swedish children place their baby teeth in a glass of water beside their beds, and when they wake up, a ten crown piece (about 1 US dollar) is waiting there in place of the tooth!
Turkey – Burial
The parents of Turkish children believe that their child’s tooth can influence their future. If they want their child to be a doctor, they bury the tooth around a medical school. If they want their child to be a dancer, they bury it near a dance studio.
Around the world, there are many other traditions surrounding baby teeth, but usually, they involve one of these rituals:
- Throwing the teeth into the sun
- Tossing the teeth into a fire
- Throwing the teeth backward and between the legs
- Placing the teeth into a mouse hole
- Burying the teeth
- Hiding the teeth from animals
- Swallowing the teeth
- Tossing the teeth onto the roof
- Hiding the teeth in a tree or wall
The American Tooth Fairy
The Tooth Fairy as we know her was inspired by a number of the other global legends, including the helpful mice and the gratuitous tandfe. After Walt Disney fairy characters began to grow more popular, the image of the tooth fairy as a powerful sprite became the norm among American children.
A study conducted by Visa found that, on average, American children receive $3.70 per lost tooth! Parents are now starting to take advantage of a preexisting incentive, promising more money or prizes for healthy and strong teeth.
Bring Your Little Ones In For A Visit
So, there you have it! The legends of the Tooth Fairy range from childish and fun to spiritual and superstitious. All in all, parents around the world should emphasize healthy dental care habits from a young age. Strong permanent teeth rely on healthy baby teeth, so it’s important to ensure that your child practices a good oral health routine from the very beginning.
Make an appointment with our office in Amherst, NH to learn more about our pediatric dentistry services, aimed at keeping your little ones’ smiles bright and healthy!