The Tooth Fairy;
Mythology and Methods
Most of us are familiar with the myth of the Tooth Fairy, a magical being, who whisks away discarded baby teeth from under our pillows, and replaces them with money. If you think about it, it is a strange tradition. We encourage children to barter away their teeth for a cash reward, in a deal that takes place while they sleep. Very few of us, however, know how this practice originated.
The Tooth Fairy is one of only a few uniquely American myths. Although it has caught on in other countries such as, Australia, Canada, and many parts of Europe, it appears to have originated in the U.S.A.
Other countries have their own unique traditions. Many cultures believe that offering their children’s teeth to small animals will ensure that they will have strong adult teeth in the future. In Colombia and El Salvador the tradition of placing the tooth under the pillow is the same, but a rabbit or rat is said to retrieve it, not a fairy. In countries like Greece, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Ethiopia, children throw their teeth onto the roofs of their houses, as a way of offering the tooth to birds or squirrels that might carry it off. In Nepal, an opposite approach is taken, and (since having a tooth carried off by a bird is considered bad luck) children are encouraged to hide or bury their teeth. In Medieval Europe, one common practice was burning teeth. It was thought that this might have been to prevent witches from being able to possess a child. Legend told that if a witch possessed enough of a person’s teeth, she would be able to control them. In Italy, Santa Claus (Befana) brings gifts to children, not just at Christmas time, but also when they lose a tooth. In British folklore, there was a witch named Jenny Greenteeth. Children were persuaded to take care of their teeth, lest they wind up as green as hers.
The American Tooth Fairy is derived from a rich mythology surrounding fairies and other magical tricksters in Europe, and it was after World War II that the Tooth Fairy really took off in popularity in the US. This was a time when the economy was on an upswing, making it feasible to financially reward every lost tooth. There was a growing culture that centered around creating magic in the lives of children. This was led in part by the release of Disney films like Cinderella and Pinocchio, which both featured kind fairies who aided the protagonists.
Today, there are many Tooth Fairy related crafts and activities to be discovered on websites like Pinterest. You can find instructions on creating “fairy money”, special pillows designed specifically for the tooth-for-cash transaction, and small pouches to hold lost teeth to help prevent them from becoming too lost.
Here are some tips for how you can participate in the Tooth Fairy tradition with your kids!
- Some parents advise modifying the myth, and telling children to leave their tooth in a container of some kind outside of their bedroom door. This decreases both the chance of losing the tooth and waking up the child, inadvertently revealing the secret identity of the tooth fairy.
- Don’t get too extravagant with your rewards. It can be easy to get carried away with the excitement of the first lost tooth, but remember you’re setting the going rate for teeth for the rest of their childhood. By the 7th or 8th tooth, you might regret overpricing. It can also be difficult or confusing for children whose parents can’t afford sizable rewards when other children at school talk about getting $5 or $10 per tooth.
- Trade your money for a clean room! Many parents find it helpful to instruct children that the Tooth Fairy won’t be able to navigate a messy room, and they’ll need to clean it if they want their reward.
- Be prepared! Teeth may fall out when you’re least expecting it, and keeping a stash of spare cash, just for tooth related expenditures, while your kids are in their prime tooth-losing phase (between the ages of 6-12), isn’t a bad idea.
The Tooth Fairy can be a great way to get children excited about their dental health and help reduce fear over losing teeth. We hope this has helped you to feel prepared to tackle the responsibility when the time comes. After all, those are some big wings to fill!
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