Each year millions of kids all around the world anxiously await the arrival of the Tooth Fairy after a baby tooth falls out. For some families, the fairy brings coins or money to celebrate the occasion. Other times she brings new oral health products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, or floss to take care of the incoming adult tooth. No matter what the Tooth Fairy brings, it’s always a special occasion when she visits.
Where did the mystical Tooth Fairy begin? How has she come to be an important figure for so many children all over the world? Keep reading to find out the history of the Tooth Fairy.
Baby teeth started it all
Many people are surprised to find out there have been rituals around the loss of baby teeth for hundreds of years. As early as 1200 CE in Northern Europe there were accounts of children being paid after they lost their first tooth. This tradition was called tand-fé, or tooth fee.
Later, other rituals surrounding baby teeth loss arose. For example, in England during the Middle Ages, it was common for children to burn their baby teeth to help them in the afterlife. It was believed that children who did not burn their teeth may spend the rest of eternity looking for them. Children would also bury their baby teeth to ensure a witch could not find them. A common belief in England at the time was witches used teeth to control their victims.
Clearly, the loss of baby teeth has had an impact on humans for ages.
The Tooth Fairy is named
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the idea of a Tooth Fairy came to be. In 1908 the Chicago Tribune was the first to publish the name “Tooth Fairy” in a “Household Hints” item. The section read as followed:
Tooth Fairy. Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the Tooth Fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the Tooth Fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5-cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions.
— Lillian Brown, Tooth Fairy, Chicago Daily Tribune
In the 1970s, the Tooth Fairy’s popularity really took off when a radio DJ in Chicago named Dick Orkin mentioned her on his show. The series was called “The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy.” Check out the clip from the series here.
Now, the Tooth Fairy is a standard tradition for families all over the world, even making her way into pop culture.
The modern Tooth Fairy
Today, the Tooth Fairy visits children all around the world including in the United States, England, Denmark, and Australia. She usually leaves a small prize or money offering in exchange for a clean baby tooth.
Fun fact: The Tooth Fairy’s going rate for teeth ranges from $2–5 per tooth. The average is $3.70 in the United States.
The Tooth Fairy has also been popularized by things such as films, books, and appearances on TV. She is often portrayed in the same light as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.
Variations of the Tooth Fairy
In many countries, the Tooth Fairy is portrayed as a small, wand-waving, winged female. However, in other countries such as New Zealand or Mexico, the fantasy creature is portrayed as a mouse.
Like the Tooth Fairy, the Tooth Mouse will sneak into a child’s bed to snatch the tooth and leave cash behind. In Russia and Afghanistan, the idea of the Tooth Mouse is very different. Instead of leaving a tooth under a pillow, children will leave it in a mouse or rat hole with the hope that the rodent will provide them with an adult tooth that is as durable as their own teeth.
There are many rituals around the world that do not involve the Tooth Fairy. In Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, children will throw their baby teeth at the sun in hopes that it will give them a bright white adult tooth. In Korea, Haiti, Taiwan, Greece, and Sri Lanka, children throw their baby teeth onto the roof of their homes.
Importance of the Tooth Fairy
Whether a mouse or fairy visits your home, the idea behind the Tooth Fairy is important to encourage good oral health habits in children.
Many parents tell their children that the Tooth Fairy only collects clean and healthy teeth. This encourages children to brush and floss their pearly whites in hopes of receiving a prize when it falls out.
For more information about the importance of the Tooth Fairy, check out how the tooth fairy encourages children to take care of their teeth.