January 10, 2012 by christine
At my house there has always been a fascination about the Tooth Fairy, particularly since I entered the dental field. My children have had special organza pouches and pretty envelopes and felt bags to hold their lost teeth in anticipation of the arrival of the Tooth Fairy. They’ve wrote long, heartfelt letters to the Tooth Fairy, enquiring about what she does with all of the teeth she collects and asking for her signature in an attempt to prove her existence. My daughter dressed up for Halloween as our version of what the Tooth Fairy must look like . . . all glitter and ruffles and fairy wings.
We hear a lot of talk around the office as well about the Tooth Fairy. Our younger patients share their tales about their Tooth Fairy experiences with us. We all know the story. A lost tooth is placed under the pillow so the Tooth Fairy can come and exchange it for money or a small treat. But, just who is this little sprite??
It seems that there are different versions of the origin of the Tooth Fairy. Centuries ago in Europe it was common practice to bury a child’s baby tooth once it fell out. The reason for this was twofold. The belief was that it prevented a witch finding the tooth and using it to place a curse on the child or the child’s family. Additionally the baby teeth were viewed almost like “seeds” and burying them allowed the strong adult tooth to grow in its place. Eventually, as towns and villages became more urban, children started burying their lost teeth in planters or small flower pots and eventually started placing them under their pillows.
There have been many ancient folk methods of disposing of lost teeth which differ by culture. Whether throwing the tooth up to the sun or feeding it to an animal (usually a mouse). Historically, teeth have been buried, burned, hidden, swallowed or ritually disposed of.
Of course, children wanted to know what happened to their small teeth. And since children love to hear stories, their parents explained to them who was actually removing their teeth and leaving the treat in its place. The early mythology of the Tooth Fairy lies in stories of kindly rats and mice that trade children their baby teeth for little gifts. As time went on, the mice became fairies. By the early 1900’s the Tooth Fairy was born and continued to become more popular over the next few decades. The story of the Tooth Fairy is considered one of the original North American fables. All children grew to love this rite of passage and the coming of the Tooth Fairy.
What does our beloved Tooth Fairy do with all of the collected teeth? Well, it depends on who you ask. There does not seem to be a consensus. Some think that when you look up and see the countless stars glimmering and sparkling in the sky you will get your answer. Others feel that they are kept neatly filed and organized in the Tooth Fairy’s castle. I’ve also heard of the teeth being ground up into fairy dust. In my house we believe that the fairy uses the teeth to build her castle.
Regardless of the precise mythology, losing one’s baby teeth is an important event in each child’s life that has been celebrated all over the world. The tradition of marking the loss of children’s first teeth has been an important part of “growing up” and continues to fascinate and excite children. Let’s continue to welcome this elusive fairy into our home with each lost tooth and celebrate the magic she brings into the lives of our children