Every night, children all over the United States crawl into bed with anticipation, their baby teeth carefully stowed away under their pillows. The tooth fairy is coming, of course! Surely each of us has a memory or two of the excitement of awaking the next day to find the tiny white treasure replaced with the surprise of a dollar bill or two. Like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, the tooth fairy is a beloved icon of fun and imagination. But how did the tradition of the tooth fairy begin?
In early times, great superstition was associated with baby teeth. It was said that if a witch achieved possession of any part of your body – a lost tooth, fingernail clippings, anything – they would have control over you. This made the disposal of baby teeth an urgent matter, and they were often buried or thrown into a fire as quickly as possible.
As time passed, this fear subsided and a new tradition came about. Superstition would have it that if a baby tooth was planted in the garden, the growth of adult teeth would be encouraged. In Europe, the exchange of a tooth for a gift or for payment began.
Various legends worldwide tell of magical creatures that play a role in the disappearance of children’s teeth. For example, in many parts of the world, children leave their baby teeth in hopes that a mouse will exchange them for a treat. In France, this tooth fairy counterpart is known as La Petite Souris; in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, it’s Ratóncito Pérez.
The American tooth fairy that we know and love didn’t become known until the 1920s, when she made her debut in an eight page children’s theater playlet. Over the years, various representations have been thought up regarding what this mystical fairy must look like – whether a spritely fairy princess with sparkly wings, or a middle-aged man donning wings as humorously depicted in the recent family film series directed by Michael Lembeck.
Did you know there is even a tooth fairy museum? Founded by Dr. Rosemary Wells in 1993, the Tooth Fairy Museum is located in Deerfield, Illinois.
Along with the spirit of fun and imagination, the tooth fairy brings a spirit of celebrating healthy teeth! Remember to see your dentist regularly and to properly care for your teeth by brushing twice daily. Happy flossing!