When you were a child and one of your teeth fell out, happened to them? Did you stick your precious mandible under your pillow in hopes that when you awoke in the morning that someone or something would have left a token of their appreciation, preferably in the form of a monetary denomination for your pearly white?
Did you ever wonder how this common practice evolved? Well as in many things as we do in life the losing and gaining of teeth are considered a rite of passage, from infancy into proper childhood. Children normally have twenty baby teeth and begin to lose them around age 5 or 6.
The Tooth Fairy was contrived in the European folklore of House Elves or Brownies who would often perform tasks or exchange treasures for common things us humans perceived as useless, such as teeth. Additionally in Europe, as an act of protection, parents would bury their children’s teeth in gardens and fields close to their home, throw the teeth to the sun or feed them to a nearby animal to ward off evil spirits and withes spells. In Ireland and Great Britain, it is still customary to find people burying their children’s teeth. When their sixth tooth falls out however, the tooth fairy steps in and leaves a gift under the child’s pillow as a reward for growing strong.
Other cultures believed that if an animal ate a baby tooth, the new teeth that came in on the child would resemble the animal that ate the original. For example, letting the tooth be eaten by mice or rats will ensure that the child grows strong, sharp teeth.
In the 17th century a French fairy tale, La Bonne Petite Souris was written by by Madame d’Aulnoy. The fairy tale, which is actually quite brutal, introduces a fairy who changes into a mouse to help the good queen defeat a very nasty, evil king. The mouse hides under a pillow and taunts the king, eventually punishing him by knocking his teeth out.
From the French story, emerged The Tooth Fairy, a three-act children’s play written by Esther Watkins Arnold in 1927 and the first printed version of “The Tooth Fairy” in English was written by Lee Rogow in 1949, which tells the story of when a child loses a baby tooth, and it’s put under the pillow at night, the tooth fairy will exchange it for a gift. Parents were amused with the concept, and soon the tooth fairy became part of the tooth shedding experience in the US. Within the last thirty years, the Tooth Fairy has become a household name complete with merchandise such as special pillows, dolls, banks, etc.
Rosemary Wells, regarded as the world’s foremost authority on tooth fairy business, has stated that the tooth fairy is only known to exist in the United States and in countries with a similar ethnic background however, there are still many adaptations across the globe associated with the rite of passage.
Around the world
- In several Spanish and South American cultures, a mouse (Ratón Pérez, El Ratón Miguelito and El Ratoncito ) replaces the tooth fairy. Children will put their teeth in a glass of water and during the night a little mouse will drink the water, take the tooth, and then leave either coins or candy in the empty glass. The same occurs in Italy however the mouse is known as Fatina; in France and Belgium the character is called La Petite Souris.
- In some Asian countries, such as India, Korea and Vietnam, when a child loses a bottom tooth, the usual custom is that he or she should throws it onto the roof; if it was an upper tooth, then the tooth is thrown into a space beneath the floor, while requesting the tooth to be replaced with the tooth of a mouse.
- In Japan upper teeth are thrown into the ground and lower teeth straight into the sky in hopes that the incoming teeth will grow in straight.
- The tradition of throwing a baby tooth up into the sky to the sun or to Allah and asking for a better tooth to replace it is common in Middle Eastern countries, hoping that it will give them back a tooth to make their smile brighter!
- Although the tooth fairy is less common in African cultures, children in Nigeria have an interesting tradition. If you’re a boy, you hold your tooth and eight stones in your fist. Girls hold six stones and their tooth in their fist. The child then closes their eyes, states their name, and counts to the number in the fist. They then say, “Oh, I want my tooth back!” Next, they throw everything in their fist up in the air and run away as fast as they can.
- The parents of children in Turkey believe that their child’s lost tooth holds within it their future. If they want their child to become a great soccer player, they will bury the tooth in a soccer field. If they wanted their child to go to dental school then they would bury the child’s tooth around a dental school.
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