The History Behind the Ritual of the Tooth Fairy

Updated on December 17, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

Tamara the Tooth Fairy From Daisy Meadows
Tamara the Tooth Fairy From Daisy Meadows | Source

It’s a ritual nearly every parent and child is familiar with: a baby tooth falls out, the child puts that tooth under his or her pillow, and they await the visit of the tooth fairy to exchange it with a coin.

Of course, nobody actually sees the tooth fairy. The child is asleep during the visit, and one only realizes the visit has happened when the child wakes up in the morning. These visits will happen over a three-to-five year period—or the time it takes for a child to lose all of his or her baby teeth.

The tooth fairy is unique in terms of folklore. For starters, the tooth fairy belongs to a pantheon of childhood mythological beings such as Santa Claus, Jack O’Lantern, and the Easter Bunny. Children believe in them fervently and look forward to their visits. Whether it's candy, trick-or-treats, or presents, these deities of youth always seem to have something enticing to give their ardent believers. In the tooth fairy’s case, it is a monetary reward for every baby tooth that falls out.

Surprisingly, the public's knowledge about this fairy is not broad.Removing baby teeth is only part of the job. The mere act alone carries on a century-old practice to comfort children through many changes in their lives. Her presence and act—as well as her incentive—are emotional indicators that such changes are not to be feared, as well as not being a bad thing.

A fairy mouse from Amanda Kathryn
A fairy mouse from Amanda Kathryn | Source

A Ritual and a Mouse

According to current customs, there’s a directive children are suppose to follow in order to be visited by the tooth fairy. They are supposed to place the tooth under their pillow. During the night, the tooth is retrieved by the fairy and is replaced with a coin (due to inflation, the coin has been replaced with dollars).

Since, on average, a child may have 20 baby teeth – and will lose them between the ages of 5 and 10 or ll - the visits are relatively frequent.

The tooth fairy is a modern creation. She was the byproduct of ancient customs, fairy-tales, children plays, and a literary genre. And, interestingly, her inspiration was allegedly due to a mouse.

The ritual act of retrieving and disposing baby teeth has a long history in many cultures around the world. The same can be said about fairies.

The marriage of the two would not happen until few centuries ago. According to a column from The Straight-Dope.com, it was once believed in ancient European societies that witches could use body parts such as hair, fingernails and teeth to “direct magic and curses” at an individual. Thus, finding ways to discard lost teeth was crucial and believed to be a life-saving move.

“The process differed by culture,” Dex, of The Straight-Dope, wrote, “from throwing the tooth up to the sun or over the roof, to feeding them to an animal (usually a mouse).”

Although not proven, it is believed that the “fairy mouse” (as it came to be known) first appeared in a fairy tale called La Bonne Petite Souris.

The mouse was the most prevalent animal in many of these customs. Thus, parents in 18th Century France began telling children that the lost baby tooth would be snatched up by a magical mouse.

Although not proven, it is believed that the “fairy mouse” (as it came to be known) first appeared in a fairy tale called La Bonne Petite Souris. According to The Straight-Dope article, the story was about a fairy who changed into a mouse, hid under the pillow of a king, and came out in the middle the night to knock out his teeth.

The Modern Tooth Fairy

Fairy mouse was too mean for kids to believe in. Thus, a new figure would take over in the 20th Century. The tooth fairy would emerge in the early 1900s. This time, she was a good fairy who brought gifts rather than mishap.

This version of the fairy was not the result of folklore, either. Her “birth” can be traced to the three-act play The Tooth Fairy, written by Esther Watkins Arnold. The play was intended for children and was published in 1927.

In 1949, Lee Rogow wrote the children fantasy “The Tooth Fairy”. The popularity of this particular story would lead to more books, cartoons, comics, and jokes being published on this subject throughout the 1950s.

Eventually, the mass-marketing culture of America caught up with the fairy, turning her into a spokesperson for a variety of items, such toothbrushes, logos for dental offices, or websites specializing in dental care. She has also become a popular caricature for dolls, toys, pillows, and other items not usually associated with dental hygiene.

Her (or his) Identity

Despite her popularity, the tooth fairy’s identity, as well as her reason for collecting teeth is still murky. In fact, her ambiguity has left her open to numerous interpretations. Even her gender hasn’t been set as was the case with The Santa Clause Trilogy, in which the tooth fairy was depicted as a middle-age man in tutus and fairy wings. Even Larry the Cable Guy has donned the wings and tutu when he played the deity in Tooth Fairy 2.

By far, the most popular male Tooth Fair was played by former professional wrestler turned actor, Dwayne Johnson (Better known as The Rock) for the first installment of the Tooth Fairy franchise.

This makes her -- or him -- unique, when compared to other mythological beings that represent rites-of-passages, rituals, or holiday. Santa is pretty much set; everybody has an idea what he looks like. The same is true for Cupid, the Easter Bunny, Jack O’Lantern, or the St. Patrick Day Leprechaun.

The ambiguity has given several writers license to add to the evolving mythos. One current best-selling writer, Terry Pratchett, attempted to clarify the mystery behind her intention for retrieving the teeth. In the story “Hogfather”, she collects, labels and displays them in a castle. Also, she is depicted as carrying pliers to use in forced tooth extraction from a child’s mouth, just in case she is not reaching her “tooth” quota.

The tooth fairy is, in many respects, a personification of a critical time in early childhood.

Despite the variance in descriptions, some details appear to be consistent. For the most part, she is a very small woman. Also, she wears a gown, carries a wand, has wings, and visits in the middle of the night when the child is sound asleep.

As mentioned, the monetary incentive she leaves has gone up. Rosemary Wells, a self-described “tooth fairy expert” wrote in her book, American Folklore that rate of exchange, compared with consumer price index between 1900 and 1980 actually kept up with inflation.

Source

Why the Tooth?

The tooth fairy is, in many respects, a personification of a critical time in early childhood. She is an entity meant to ease this scary moment in many children and to honor it as a rite-of-passage.

Often the first physical sign of maturity toward a child's teen years are the loss and replacement of the baby teeth. Baby teeth are temporary, whereas the set that comes in its place become their permanent ones.

It doesn't happen at once and it's not a clean transition. And, in many cases, it can cause temporary pain and cause bleeding. The ritual created for the tooth fairy seemingly makes an unpleasant transition in life much more acceptable. Notably, most children look forward to losing their teeth due to the monetary rewards it entails.

And Finally...

Her life span as a mythological being is short-lived. Many children will stop believing in her after their seventh or eighth birthday. However, she is still a popular character in numerous books, movies, TV and advertisement. She’s a mythological being for now and into the future.

a certificate from the Tooth Fairy - A new aspect to the ritual. Originally posted on picphotos.net
a certificate from the Tooth Fairy - A new aspect to the ritual. Originally posted on picphotos.net

© 2017 Dean Traylor

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wehavekids.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://wehavekids.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)