Most people in the USA know when small children lose baby teeth, they are told to put them under the pillow and when they wake up next morning, the Tooth Fairy will have left something for them. The tooth “disappears” the same way Santa “appears” – while the children are all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums, according to some. All kinds of dental websites will breathlessly tell you that the Tooth Fairy celebrates the excitement and wonder of kids losing their teeth. None mention how some kids are scared and most experience at least a little bleeding. Some sites will sell you Tooth Fairy Gift Sets that include, according to one, “An enchanting Story Book, a Special Pouch that holds the tooth while they wait for a visit from the tooth fairy, and an opulent Vault used to store their teeth.” You can also stock up on Tooth Fairy greeting cards at dozens of sites.
Where did the Tooth Fairy Come From?
Tradition says the notion of a child receiving money in exchange for a lost baby tooth began in medieval times in Northern Europe. In Norse lore, children’s teeth were said to bring good luck, so Viking warriors would pay children for their baby teeth, string them on necklaces, and wear them into battle to protect themselves from harm. In the 1958 film The Viking, Kirk Douglas played Einar, son of the Viking chieftain, without a baby teeth necklace and look what happened to him.
Animal teeth are popular necklace items among many subcultures
None more so than shark’s teeth and crocodile teeth, especially among surfers and the likes of Mick Dundee. People who wear teeth as adornments think they do this because it’s stylish and subculture-fashionable, but any of Margaret Mead’s cronies will gladly tell you it is a practice that is firmly rooted in primal superstitions.
The Tooth Mouse?
Some say the first Tooth Fairy comes from a French fairytale, but “La Bonne Petite Souris” isn’t even a fairy at all. The name translates as The Good Little Mouse. In the story, a mouse changes into a fairy and intercedes in a conflict between the Roi et Reine, helping the kidnapped queen and her daughter escape the evil king. These days, the Good Little Mouse sneaks in children’s bedrooms when they’ve lost a tooth, rolls a coin across the room and puts it under their pillows.
Spanish kids hear a very different story
Ratón Peréz (aka Ratoncito “Little Mouse” Peréz and El Ratón de Los Dientes “the Mouse of the Teeth”) lives in a box of cookies with his family and likes to run away from home and enter the bedrooms of kids who lost a tooth.
Some Spanish websites say Luís Coloma Roldán made up the story to comfort the 8 year old son of Spain’s King Alfonso VII. With his upbringing, perhaps Alfonso the Eighth needed comforting. As soon as he was born, he was carried naked to the Spanish prime minister on a silver tray. Within the week, he was baptized with special holy water carried to Madrid from the biblical River Jordan. When he was only three, Alfonso VIII became ill during the flu pandemic of 1889-1890 but survived to rule Spain until 1931.
The original Roldán manuscript lies in the vault of the library of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain. Also in Madrid is the Casita Museo de Ratón Pérez, among its many exhibits, are baby teeth that once belonged to Isaac Newton, Beethoven, and Beatrix Potter.
Kids normally have 20 baby teeth
Most start losing them at about 5 or 6 and most can’t resist wiggling them. Raise your hand if you were ever involved in a doorknob tooth extraction.
Go back to those medieval days and you will find that there were many superstitions about how witches (those toil and trouble hags) would use human hair, nail clippings and teeth to make vile potions and cast spells. To keep the witches from getting them, superstitious parents would bury baby teeth, burn them, and throw them over the roof to keep the curses away.
Egyptians wrap their baby teeth in tissue and throw them towards the sun
They do saying the words “Shiny sun, shiny sun, take this buffalo’s tooth and bring me a bride’s tooth,” so that Ra, the sun god, will give them a new one in exchange. In Norway and Sweden, baby teeth are left in a glass of water for the fairy to drink. In Ireland, the Tooth Fairy is a leprechaun who lost a tooth playing in the forest and replaces it with a baby tooth taken from a child. In Germany, children collect their baby teeth in boxes but still get coins. Koreans throw baby teeth on the roof so birds can come get them; Nepalese bury the teeth to make sure the birds do not get them. In Italy, it’s a Tooth Fairy with a Tooth Mouse as a helper. This mouse is named Topolino, the same name used by Fiat on their coupe first built in 1936.
In Turkey, parents believe their children’s baby teeth are the key to the future
Europeisnotdead.com says if Turkish parents want their kids to become doctors, they will bury their baby teeth near a hospital. Want your kid to become a soccer player? Bury their baby teeth somewhere on the field, inside the net if you want a goalie, I imagine. Lithuanian children learn to throw their baby teeth behind the stove and say “Mouse, mouse, take from me the wooden one, bring me the iron one.” Mongolians feed the baby teeth to the dog so the grown-up tooth will be strong.
Today’s ready-to-retro times are ripe for these and more traditions to become TikTok sensations and a prime time television show: AMERICA’S FUNNIEST BABY TEETH REMOVAL CEREMONIES!!!
The USA’s Tooth Fairy was one of the last to arrive on the scene
But hey, it’s a young country. In 1908, the Chicago Tribune published an article by Lillian Brown that counseled parents on how to get their children’s loose baby teeth pulled. The idea was to con the kids into thinking that a magic fairy would bring them money, usually a small coin. Along came a children’s play about the Tooth Fairy and then a short story published in Collier’s Weekly. By the 1950s, the story was told in most of the households in the USA.
In the Fifties, a nickel or a dime was the going rate for a baby tooth, and today the average amount left by the Tooth Fairy is said to be around $4 or $5, depending upon the source you use. Kids in the Northeast get the most money while kids in the Midwest get the least. If you’re interested, check out Delta Dental’s Original Tooth Fairy Poll here.
There is a National Tooth Fairy Day, of course…
During my research, I found three different dates, February 28th, February 24th and August 22. Make of that what you will.
…and a Tooth Fairy Museum
This is a combined museum and dental clinic located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their website tells of childhood tooth loss rituals from around the world. The museum features the history of dentistry and includes old nostrums, antique dental chairs, and every dental tool you can imagine.
Where do all these baby teeth end up?
There is no official lore, but modern explanations include recyclers who say the trade-ins go to new babies who have no teeth. A favorite among the fairytale bunch is that the Tooth Fairy uses them to build a castle. With billions of kids losing teeth every year, that has to be one heck of a castle.
Another famous fairy
Tinker Bell was the animated fairy from the Disney film Peter Pan. She was a regular on The Mickey Mouse Club that was on television every afternoon when kids got home from school. Tinker Bell had magic pixie dust that gave her the ability to fly. I read that the inspiration for Disney’s Tinker Bell was Marilyn Monroe, but I don’t see much of a resemblance, do you?
In 1905, Hungarian-born Helen Deutsch came to the USA with a dance troupe
A 14-year old, she lived in the Clara De Hirsch Home for Immigrant Girls in New York City. Later, she joined the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus as an acrobat who did an Iron Jaws Slide For Life act from the tent top down to the floor on a long wire holding on by only her teeth. She took the stage name Tiny Kline and some say she spent some time as a burlesque dancer. In 1961, she made the first Tinker Bell “flight” over the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. Tiny was 4’10” tall, weighed 98 pounds – and was 71 years old.
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If you didn’t click on the blue link at fairytale earlier in this story, here’s another chance to enjoy one of 1974’s biggest Country Music hits. Diehard Southerners were shocked when they later saw who those radio voices belonged to. I saw the Pointer Sisters live with friends at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee around that time. Don’t snob on the country part, because they also had some hits in other categories, like their versions of Springsteen’s Fire, Van Halen’s Jump and my personal favorite, Shaky Flat Blues, written by sisters Anita, Bonnie and June as an homage to Hoagy Carmichael, the guy who wrote Georgia On My Mind, recorded by hundreds, but none better than this 1960 live performance by Ray Charles.