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October 8th, 2015

The Real Story Behind the Tooth Fairy

Category: cincinnati dentist, dental health

The Tooth Fairy

They say the three most famous figures in mythology are Santa, the Easter Bunny and…the tooth fairy!

For many of us, all three might have meant gifts at one time or another in our life.

Many are familiar with the stories behind Santa and the Easter Bunny, but what about the tooth fairy?

How and Why Did the Tooth Fairy Folklore Begin?

When we’re young and we lose teeth, we quickly learn that we can place the baby tooth underneath our pillow. Then—as the folklore goes—as we sleep, the tooth fairy will come and replace that lost tooth with a small amount of money.

Across Europe and around the world, the concept of exchanging baby teeth for a “fee” in return was seen as early as the 13th century. And not all the rituals with baby teeth had to do with money: baby tooth-related rituals have ranged from throwing teeth into the sun, throwing teeth into fire and even hiding or burying the baby teeth once they fell out.

It has also been documented that in both Russia and Mexico, among other places, people have sacrificed a mouse when a child loses a tooth! The idea behind the ritual was said to be that by sacrificing a mouse, the child’s adult teeth would grow in as strong and sturdy as the rodent’s teeth. Anthropologists call the underlying idea “sympathetic magic.”

We don’t know about you, but we’ll stick with putting a tooth underneath a pillow for a little financial incentive!

The Newcomer on the Mythological Scene

Although it is true that Europeans had some form of ritual around baby teeth, accounts vary on how that gifting process first translated into a tooth fairy leaving the gift behind.

Most likely the source? A story from France!

There was a tradition from 18th century France of a “tooth mouse,” potentially loosely based off a story La Bonne Petite Souris. In this story, a fairy changes into a mouse, and hides under a pillow in order to taunt the King. She then punishes him by knocking out all his teeth. This could have been a start to the earliest of ideas of the tooth fairy as the “good fairy.”

The tooth fairy (or “good fairy”) is said to have first been publicly referenced dating back to 1908, when the Chicago Daily Tribune gave reference to it. Other historians prefer the origin being closer to 1927, and still others say it was later in the 50, 60s or 70s when the tradition really began or gained popularity.

Just as the tooth fairy was gaining popularity, pop culture helped reinforce the concept. At the time, Disney was releasing films including Cinderella and Pinocchio; these undoubtedly helped solidify the idea of the tooth fairy in children’s minds and imaginations.

Some point to the fact that people were looking to encourage the idea in children of taking good care of their teeth—and that their teeth were in fact valued, around this time period. The tradition and idea of a tooth fairy made tooth disposal more lighthearted, and as a result, was embraced by families. It’s also said that parents saw it as a way to also help children get over any fear of losing a tooth. What is known is that by 1970s, when the tooth fairy was mentioned on the radio, the American Dental Association was inundated with inquiries about the fairy! Families and children loved the story.

A Very Good—and Popular—Fairy

The tooth fairy may be young, but she is getting more generous with time: the amount of money left behind by a tooth fairy does tend to increase with the rate of inflation.

Just how much does the tooth fairy leave, on average?

Researchers at Visa examined just how generous she is, finding that she leaves about $3.70 per tooth, a number that was steadily increasing over time.

The tooth fairy isn’t just embraced by young children. According to a Well’s Survey, 97 percent of parents feel neutral or positive about the tooth fairy. She may not be as celebrated as Santa and the Easter Bunny, but we like to hear the entire family embraces her!

Looking for a dentist that can take care of your entire family? Give Hagen Dental a call today at 513-251-5550.


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