You might think it’s a touch weird that some crazy tooth obsessed lady likes breaking into our homes, our children’s bedrooms, steals their baby teeth and leaves money underneath the pillows. It also doesn’t sound like a great business venture, probably recouping the loss in stolen merchandise. I bet it’s like the Green Lantern Corps. There’s probably lots of ‘em. A global gang of pirates lulling us into a false sense of optimism whilst they harvest our homes and cotton some loot. Aye, I’m on to you, so called ‘tooth faeries.’ Pirate faeries, more like, which, strangely, sounds absolutely terrifying and absolutely adorable at the same time. And that’s when they strike…
The tooth faerie, which is a crap name, if you ask me, is a fantasy figure of early childhood. I’d prefer ‘tooth daemon’, but hey-ho, they don’t put people like me in charge of the naming department of childhood fantasy figures, do they now? Nah. It’s all pen-pushing yes-men in that department, these days. So the legend goes, when a child loses a baby tooth, they should immediately place it underneath their pillows and the tooth faerie will come with a gift for the tooth. It’s not entirely clear why the tooth faerie feels the need to do this, is it? What does she get out of it?
You might think the tooth faerie is a myth as old as Santa or… male fidelity. Not so. However, traditions around our baby teeth go back for millennia. Early Norse and Europeans believed that when a child lost a tooth, it had to be buried to spare the child from hardships in the next life. The Vikings used their baby teeth in battle, as a symbol of good luck. They didn’t fashion tiny swords out of them, but I agree, that is an utterly adorable image…
In more recent times, it was common across Europe to give a child a gift when they lost their sixth tooth, which, as someone with OCD, does my absolute head in. Why six, huh? Why not a nice, round number? ARRGH! I can’t be the only one who that bothers, right? Irritating olden day people. During the 17th century in France, the gift was a rabbit. Being French, I assume it was less of a pet for life and more of a special supper. What? Have you been to France? I spent 24 hours there, once. I lived off chocolate bars. Top tip, that.
Most countries, however, gave a gift of a mouse, a type of sympathetic magic relating to the fact that the teeth of rodents continue to grow throughout their entire lives, so the mouse was a symbol of good luck to the child who lost their tooth. However, it wouldn’t comfort me a great deal. “I’ve lost a tooth, daddy. Should I be worried?” “Absolutely not, son. Here’s a mouse.” “Why?” “Good luck.” “Why do I need good luck if there’s nothing to worry about?” “Nobody likes a smart arse…”
One might think a rabbit or a mouse are pretty shit gifts, but other cultures gave other animals, too. Oh, yes. Cats. Dogs. Squirrels. Beavers. Ha, ha, ha… “Here, son. Have a beaver…” Tee, he, he… “Thomas, where’s our son?” “Well, I mean, there’s a… slight, slight possibility the beaver ate him.” Other people believed that one must dispose of baby teeth in certain ways to herald good luck and ward off misfortune. Place the tooth in a mouse hole. Bury it in the ground. Throw it on the roof. Throw it into the Sun. Throw it backwards between the legs. Get the mother to swallow it. I’m not making any of this up! Who came up with throwing a tooth between the legs for good luck! Or getting mum to swallow it! Or… throw it into the Sun! THROW IT INTO THE… How the hell are you supposed to manage that!
The tooth faerie as we know her was an American creation, and considering the fact that America is like, what, 20 minutes old, tells you the tooth faerie hasn’t been around all too long. The first reference to such comes from the Chicago Daily Tribune newspaper in an item quaintly named ‘Household Hints,’ dating back to 1908. ‘Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed, the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions.’ I bet parents across the land were grateful for that…
It comes as no surprise to see that one Walter Elias Disney decided to get in on the act and started producing shit like Pinocchio and Cinderella, films that feature prominent faerie characters. What? They are shit! Have you ever read the original Pinocchio? Comparing that to Disney’s endeavour is like comparing Night of the Living Dead to the Teletubbies.
In these movies, we have benevolent, maternal faeries that have the power to make any wish come true. But this pop culture did not make the tooth faerie as prominent as you may realise. Whilst the tooth faerie did become a part of a few family traditions across America, most simply shrugged it off as yet another character from yet another Disney heap of horridness. Is it coming across like I don’t like Disney? Good. Couldn’t be truer…
So when did it become that tradition everyone goes through as a child? Try and guess. Remember, Disney was going hard on the tooth faerie marketing malarkey in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. 1960, you say? Keep guessing. 1965? Oh, nope. Try again. 1970? Nearly there. 1975? Absolutely correct. Yes, in 1975, a radio show in Chicago made reference to the tooth faerie and, within 10 minutes, the station was bombarded with thousands of calls from confused listeners who had absolutely no idea what the host was waffling on about. In a panic, he turned to his staff in some kind of horribly misjudged hope that they would be able to help him out. They hadn’t heard of it, either, and this was the ‘70s in Chicago.
But this is just in the developed, modern and sophisticated world. So what about France? Well, there they believe La Petite Souris, a little mouse, visits the children in the night for the tooth and leaves behind money or sweets. This comes from a 17th century tale of a faerie turning into a mouse to help the Queen defeat an evil King. That’s just stupid. Why not turn into a lion? Didn’t think of that, did you! Actually, a lion in children’s bedrooms is probably a bad idea. Unless you don’t like children and therefore would want to see them eaten by a lion. I like it.
In Ireland, they’re not all about the faerie, the mouse or the base, but instead believe in Anna Bogle, a mischievous young leprechaun who knocked out her front tooth whilst playing in the forest. Feeling self-conscious, Bogle sneaked around Ireland taking the discarded teeth of human children looking for a perfect fit, sort of an even bloodier Cinderella. It’s said she leaves behind leprechaun gold… and a trail of blood from where she’s jammed children’s teeth in her gums. Probably.
In Belarus, children put their lost teeth in mouse holes in the fervent hope the mouse will give them a strong tooth as a replacement. Now that’s nice, isn’t it? They believe the mice work every day of the year, except Christmas Day. If the tooth is given to the mouse on Christmas Day, the mouse is said to die. Oh. It’s not so nice, anymore. Still, could be worse. In Japan, they throw their lost teeth into the air. That’s it. I assume their wear goggles. Nobody wants to be known as tooth-eye. Actually, that does sound rather gnarly.
They also believe in the mouse in Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela. Some children even chant, “Rat! Rat! Rat! I give you a beautiful tooth. Send me back an old tooth.” I assume it sounds nicer in Spanish. In South Africa, they throw the tooth on a roof and chant, “Take sow my tooth and give me an iron one so that I can chew rusks.” You see, that’s a chant. South Africans do this for the pigs to take them. I mean… do they get a lot of pigs on roofs in South Africa? Hmm…
In Sweden and Argentina, they put their baby teeth in a glass of water and one dollar is put in the glass in exchange. The equivalent, not an actual one dollar bill. I think it would go a bit soggy. Things get even stranger in Turkey, where they bury the tooth where they want their child to work in the future. So in the grounds of a hospital, underneath Ikea, next to a mall cop shack, things like that…
We in the western world like to think our way of doing it is the most common, but throwing them is, in fact, the most common way people dispose of their baby teeth. They do it in India, across Africa, in Sri Lanka and across Asia. In Central America, they make jewellery out of their teeth, going back to Viking traditions, a time when a tooth fee was paid to children so the adult in question could use the child’s tooth.
The tooth faerie, however, remains a prevalent tradition. You’ll find this across England, America, Canada, Australia and even Denmark. A simple tradition to make a child less scared about losing a tooth. Failing to realise a child may be equally as scared by a strange lady entering their room during the night…
Nobody quite knows what the fictional tooth faerie looks like, although most portray her as a winged female sprite or pixie, often carrying a wand and trailing sparkles, which, if I were a parent, would frustrate the hell out of me. “HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO GET SPARKLES OUT OF THE RUG!” In 1984, 74% of Americans saw the tooth faerie as female, whereas 12% thought she was neither male nor female. Others thought she looked more like a dragon, a bat or even a bear. Oh, yeah. Great parenting. “No son, the tooth faerie isn’t a sweet little pixie with lots of gold for your tooth, IT’S A GIANT BEAR WHO WILL EAT YOU IF YOU WAKE UP! FEAR THE BEAR! FEAR IT!” Good gosh.
In America, a dime was the going rate for a tooth in the ‘40s, a half dollar by the ‘60s and today, an average of $4.66 for a tooth, whereas in the UK, you’ll be lucky to see more than 50p. About 65 American cents. I would have loved if I had gotten £3.60 for a tooth, but I stopped getting money for teeth long before I’d lost all my baby teeth. Around 85% of households receive a visit from the tooth faerie, and in 89%, the children receive money, which does make you feel a bit sorry for the 11% who get hipster hippy gifts, like hemp and ‘imagination.’ Bah.
National Tooth Fairy day is held each year on February 28th. Or August 22nd. Depends who you ask. August 22nd is a compelling date because the second week of August is National Smile Week, but, that said, February 27th is Sword Swallower’s Day, so it would be appropriate that the tooth faerie would have a bit more work to do. That said, I don’t see that many child sword swallowers these days, so, you know, take your pick…
Like most ‘90s kids, I got a 50p for a tooth until I hit about eight, and then it stopped. I wasn’t too bothered by it all, really. So, yes and no, mum and dad, a.k.a. the tooth faerie, did pay me a visit now and again, but wasn’t too bothered by my baby teeth.
What? Did… did you not know the tooth faerie is actually your parents?
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