What’s the history behind the Tooth Fairy?

The tooth fairy is an iconic symbol of childhood, the same way we fondly remember Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny, we look back on the Tooth Fairy with fond memories. Unlike the other two mythological heroes of modern folklore, the Tooth Fairy exists across religion and culture in many anglo-based societies. But where did this sprightly sprite originate, and just how long have we believed in her magic?

Ancient Tooth Related Myths

The Tooth Fairy as we know it is a relatively recent creation, like other myths, evolved over time. There are traditions, legends, and myths dating back millennia with regards to losing your baby teeth.

Early Norse and European traditions suggest that when a child lost a baby tooth, it was buried to spare the child from hardships in the next life. A tradition of the “tand-fe” or tooth fee originated in Europe for a child’s first tooth, and Vikings used children’s teeth and other items from their children to bring them good luck in battle.

There’s also the more general tradition of a good fairy in Europe that was birthed out of fairy tales and popular literature in more recent times. Ultimately the most popular version of a ‘tooth deity’ is the image of a mouse, who would enter children’s rooms and remove baby teeth. This tradition is prominent in Russia, Spain and many Asian countries like China.

Tooth Fairy Traditions Around The World

More recently, when the 6th tooth fell out, the child was rewarded with a gift in many northern European countries. In France, a mouse or rabbit dating to the 17th century mentioned a La Petite Souris. In Latin countries, the most well-known character is Ratoncito Perez. Perez has become a pop symbol in his own right, appearing in cartoons and he even has a museum dedicated to him in Madrid, Spain. Perez is used to marketing dental products to children much the way the tooth fairy is in Canada or the US.

The reason for the mouse being synonymous with so many culture’s tooth fairy traditions is the fact that rodents continue to grow their teeth their entire lives. Anthropologists consider a type of ‘sympathetic magic’ a way for believers to transfer good luck or traits to the child who lost the tooth.

In other cultures, the legend varies to include beavers, cats, dogs or even squirrels. Other traditions of the tooth fairy include rituals dating back thousands of years in almost every culture. Traditions like:

(1) thrown into the sun.
(2) thrown into the fire.
(3) thrown backwards between the legs.
(4) thrown onto or over the roof of a dwelling.
(5) placed in a mouse hole.
(6) buried in the ground.
(7) hidden out of sight of animals.
(8) put inside a tree or on the wall.
(9) swallowed by mother, the child or a pet.

The Many Faces Of The Tooth Fairy

Unlike the counterparts of Santa Claus or The Easter Bunny, which have been branded in large part by companies like Coca-Cola and Cadbury, the Tooth Fairy has not been associated with one specific look. The most common rendition was inspired by other fairies in pop culture, but the tooth fairy has appeared in countless shapes and sizes, from young to old, human to sprite, even animals and birds have inspired the look of the fairy.

Ultimately, the reason the tooth fairy legend continues to grow and evolve across cultures is that it provides a level of comfort to children. As you grow, your body undergoes many changes, but arguably the first and most traumatic for children is the loss of a tooth or two. The tooth fairy and the mouse legends like Parez help bring comfort and excitement to a traumatic experience.

Today dentists use the tooth fairy to encourage dental health, even encouraging parents to propagate the legend with the notion that a tooth that is cleaner receives a larger reward. This kind of encouragement and the notion of a tooth fairy makes dental work easier for children, and that’s a very good thing!

We are happy for you to believe in whichever shape of the tooth fairy you like, however at Corne Smith Dentistry, Claremont, Cape Town we believe in great, comfortable service for you and your whole family!