Many children in the United States grow up with the tale of the magical Tooth Fairy, who exchanges money for baby teeth that are left under a pillow. But where did this story originate?
Payment for Lost Teeth in the USA
In the United States, the earliest modern trace of the Tooth Fairy tradition dates back to a 1908 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune. The author, Lillian Brown, suggested parents give a small gift for lost baby teeth to children who place them underneath their pillow at night. In 2017, the average going rate for a baby tooth was $5.17 – wow! However, the tradition of exchanging money for baby teeth dates back further than 1908. According to Norse writings, northern European children in the 10th century were rewarded with a “tand-fe”, or tooth fee, when they lost their first tooth.
Traditions Similar to the Tooth Fairy
Today, there are a variety of other Tooth Fairy-like traditions around the world in which a prize is exchanged for a child’s lost tooth. For example, many Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, teach children about a mystical rodent named Ratoncito Perez, who replaces baby teeth left under their pillow or in a glass of water with a gift. France also has a tooth-collecting mouse, but he is named La Petite Souris, or “The Little Mouse”.
Other Tooth Traditions Around the World
In addition to traditions similar to the Tooth Fairy, there have been a wide variety of customs concerning lost baby teeth throughout history. During the Middle Ages, children in England were instructed to burn their teeth so they’d be protected from the spells of witches. Vikings paid children for teeth because they believed wearing baby teeth was a good luck charm in battle. The Middle Eastern countries of Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt have a custom of throwing baby teeth into the sky for good fortune. And in some Asian countries, lost teeth are buried in the ground or placed on the roof to
encourage proper growth of the new permanent teeth.
The Tooth Fairy Tradition May Encourage Your Child
I appreciate how the fun of the Tooth Fairy and other tooth traditions bond children with their parents in the pursuit of healthy teeth. I recommend encouraging healthy oral habits in your children however you see fit. If the Tooth Fairy is a custom you and your family embrace, I suggest rewarding a higher rate for healthy teeth. Let your child know that the Tooth Fairy cares about daily brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dentist, and will only pay top dollar for clean and strong teeth! I find this helps small children to find value in dental hygiene.