Many countries around the world have traditions relating to the idea of a tooth fairy for hundreds of years. The fairy is of supernatural make-up, small in nature, nimble, and able to fly through a pair of wings, and comes to take the tooth away in exchange for a small payment of money, usually left in place of the tooth. The evolution of the idea of a fairy has taken a while, and other traditions pre-existed its creation. As it can be a traumatic time for some children, the idea was to mitigate the situation with a cash payment for the child. The fact that the child can then proceed to purchase more tooth decaying products seems beyond the ken of most adults.
Cultural Variations Regarding Tooth Loss
Across the globe for hundreds of years, humans have held different customs and traditions with regards to dealing with tooth loss in young children. For example, in Europe, in the middle ages, it was usual for children to be told to bury their teeth, to ensure a long and prosperous life. Another variation was to make sure you burned your tooth in a fire, so witches, who we believed to exist in that time period, would be able to get your tooth. It was believed witches could take possession of a tooth, and control its owner. Managing to destroy the tooth in a fire would help protect the child from hardship in the afterlife as well. In Norse culture, it was considered lucky to go into battle wearing articles of children, including fallen out primary teeth. It was said that the Vikings bought the teeth of the children in the areas where they settled.
In Japan, the custom is to have the child throw their tooth either up in the air if it fell from the upper jaw and to the ground if it came out of the lower jaw. This was meant to ensure that the adult tooth grew in straight and comfortably. In China, and Korea, a slight variation was used, where the child threw the top tooth to the roof of the house, or the bottom tooth under the space in the floor, and as this was performed, would shout a request to ensure the next tooth to grow in would be like a rodent tooth, which is known to never stop growing through its lifetime.
Modern Tooth Fairy
The concept of having a fairy or similar character replace the tooth for money seems to have begun in the Spanish area in around 1894. The Ratoncito Perez figure of Spanish and Hispanic cultures first introduces the character in Madrid, and his habit of replacing a tooth from under a sleeping child’s pillow with money, was first introduced. The concept was popular, as it was seen as a comforting gesture by the parents, who wished to limit their child’s pain at losing a tooth. In 1927, Esther Watkins Arnold put all of the traditional tooth fairy ideas together in a children’s book.
Some modern minded parents view the tooth fairy in a dimmer light, claiming that the idea of lying about fantasy figures is something they are not prepared to do with their children, while others see it as an innocent part of childhood, on a level with the ideas of Santa Clause and the Easter Rabbit. Many parents view it as their child growing up, one of the physical signs of approaching adult-hood. While all this is being thought of, it certainly will be of no interest to the children themselves, who will surely only concern themselves with the amount of money their teeth will bring them. Recent evidence shows that in the United States of America, the average rate per tooth is $3.70.
Check out this fun little clip on YouTube about the tooth fairy: