The Origin of the Tooth Fairy
Who is the Tooth Fairy?
The Tooth Fairy is one of many mythical beings most of us learn about in childhood. Right up there with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy is a fantasy figure that most children look forward to meeting, but never actually do. Like Santa and the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy visits us when we are asleep, leaving behind little presents or goodies for us to find in the morning.
Origins of the Tooth Fairy
Ancient Myth and Tradition in the Middle-Ages
In early times, there was a European tradition that involved burying a child’s baby teeth when they fell out. Once the child had lost six teeth, it was customary for the parents of the child to leave a little present or some money under the child’s pillow, along with the teeth that have fallen out. The tradition is based on celebrating the fact that the child is progressing towards adulthood, signified by the fact that once a baby tooth falls out, an adult tooth will come in in its place.
Another ancient tradition in Northern Europe, was for the parents to actually pay a child when they lose their first tooth. The reward would be based on various factors including the following:
Country of residence
The economic status of the family
The reward amount the child’s peers would typically receive
There have been many other superstitions and myths surrounding the loss of baby teeth. For example, in England, it was believed that the baby teeth should be burned in order to save the child from hardship in the afterlife. If the child’s teeth weren’t burned, the myth is that the child would spend eternity in the afterlife searching for the lost teeth. Another version of this story is that if the teeth weren’t burned, a witch could use them to gain total power over the child.
The Vikings believed that children’s teeth brought good luck in battle, and Scandinavian warriors wore their children’s teeth around their necks for good luck.
20th Century Adaptation
In the early 1900’s, the Tooth Fairy took on a new form, as portrayed in a play by children’s playwright Esther Watkins Arnold. From there, more and more stories were written. As the myth and stories evolved, the Tooth Fairy began to take shape in the form of a beautiful female fairy complete with wings, a wand, and a glittery aura.
The story of the tooth fairy also began to evolve. Whereas in ancient times, they myths and superstitions surround the loss of baby teeth had a more ominous bent, in today’s modern society, the Tooth Fairy denotes all things positive and healthy about growing up. Let’s take a look at the reasons why.
The loss of a child’s first tooth can be a traumatic experience. After all, it is a new experience. Sometimes it can be a little bit painful, and when the tooth does finally fall out, there is usually bleeding involved. And of course the fact that the child now has what appears to be a ‘hole’ in their mouth –these things can add up to a very scary experience.
To soften this experience, parents have relied on the Tooth Fairy to change the child’s perception of what it means to lose a tooth. As the story now goes, when the tooth starts to become lose and wobbly, parents will begin to tell the child the story of the Tooth Fairy and what will happen when tooth falls out. The child will be told to place the tooth under the pillow before they go to bed. During the night, a beautiful magical fairy will visit, and leave a small gift or money under the child’s pillow.
Some parents have been known to go all out when it comes to the tooth fairy. Mothers might dress up in fancy costumes in case the child wakes in the night…the child will remember in the morning that the Tooth Fairy was in his/her room! Other parents might leave trails of glitter from the bedroom window to the child’s bed to prove that the Tooth Fairy was there. And some parents might also leave a little note for the child to read in the morning.
The whole point of these fun and whimsical tales, is to make the experience of losing a tooth as pleasant as possible for the child, so that when the next tooth falls out, not only are they not afraid, but they actually look forward to a visit from the Tooth Fairy.
Cultural Differences of the Tooth Fairy
While in North America, we refer to the Tooth Fairy as just that – the Tooth Fairy – a beautiful female fairy with wings and a wand, in other countries, while the story is basically the same, there are slight differences, like in the examples below:
In Mexico, children are told about ‘Raton Perez’, a special fairy mouse who swaps coins for the tooth left under the child’s pillow.
In France, the Tooth Fairy is a mouse named La Petite Souris. La Petite Souris swaps small toys and gifts for the tooth left under the child’s pillow.
In other countries, there isn’t always a special fairy who visits the children, but there are other traditions, such as throwing the tooth to the sky, or even feeding it to a dog or cat.
The Tooth Fairy and the Dentist
There are many dentists who specialize in pediatric dentistry. In keeping with the tradition of the story of the Tooth Fairy, many dentists will encourage the child to see a visit to the dentist as a positive experience. Good dental health and dental hygiene is another sign that the child is growing up.
Our Vancouver dentists ensure your child has a fun and positive experience when they visit us, because we believe in the importance of showing children that there are other rewards for taking care of their teeth – good health and a beautiful smile.