As a dentist, the tooth fairy is particularly close to my heart. She makes the potentially scary event of losing a baby tooth something to look forward to and she encourages good dental hygiene because, after all, no fairy wants to dirty tooth. Recently, I started wondering about the origins of this fairy. How did we begin to tell our children that if they put a tooth beneath their pillow, a fairy would come in the night and take it in exchange for a tooth?
As it turns out, the tooth fairy is a relatively new addition to the folklore of childhood, but the ritualistic disposal of a child’s lost tooth has a long, interesting history. In some cultures, teeth were buried, burned, thrown over a house, or placed near a mouse hole. Over time, the role of the mouse in the disposal of baby teeth grew and, even today, Spanish children leave their teeth for a little rat to take.
In a French story called La Bonne Petite Souris, a good mouse rescues a queen by knocking out the evil king’s teeth. This good mouse then turns out to be a fairy. So, the tooth mouse has become a tooth fairy. It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that the tooth fairy became a part of most American children’s childhoods. This may be thanks, in part, to Tinkerbell and Cinderella, who made fairies a big part of the childhoods of children in the 1950s.
Today, the tooth fairy is an important part of many children’s childhoods. It can also be a great tool for parents who need to encourage better dental hygiene in their children. Just be sure to let them know the tooth fairy likes pearly white teeth!