The tooth fairy is incredibly common in the United States. Most of Dr. Sharma’s patients either grew up with the tooth fairy or introduced the idea to their kids. But while most people have fond memories of the tooth fairy visiting them as a child, they may not necessarily think about where this myth came from.
When the Modern American Tooth Fairy Appeared
You may not realize it, but the modern tooth fairy, so popular in the United States, didn’t appear until the 20th century. It first appeared in 1927 in a child-oriented playlet by Esther Watkins Arnold. It didn’t become popular until the 1930s.
The Current American Tradition
Most American kids who lose a tooth will put it under their pillow for the tooth fairy. The tooth will be gone in the morning, and money will have appeared. The tooth fairy used to leave a coin or two. The most recent average rate is just over $5.
Earlier Versions of the Tooth Fairy
While earlier generations didn’t necessarily have the current tooth fairy, they did have other traditions surrounding teeth.
The tradition of a tooth fee dates back to 1200, if not earlier. It appears in the Eddas, the earliest written Northern European and Norse traditions.
For example, early Europeans and Norse people would bury baby teeth. It was believed that this would prevent the child from dealing with hardships in their next life.
Or Vikings would use children’s items, such as their teeth, for good luck when battling.
The idea of the tooth fee is likely European in origin, although experts aren’t sure about its specific origin.
In the Middle Ages, some Europeans even left baby teeth out, hoping rodents would eat them. The idea was that because rodents have strong teeth if they eat a child’s baby tooth, that baby would develop healthy, strong adult teeth.
Some traditions also burned the teeth. Sometimes, this was to ensure a life free from hardship. In other cultures, it was to protect the teeth from witches.
Other Variations of the Tooth Fairy
If you look around the world, you will also find plenty of other tooth-related myths and legends still in use.
The common theme is that cultures have specific traditions of what to do with baby teeth. Some burn them, while others bury them or put them on the roof.
One very common legend is a mouse version of the tooth fairy. It performs a similar function but is a mouse, not a fairy. This is especially popular in Spanish-speaking countries, Italy, France, and other parts of Europe.
In Middle Eastern countries, people throw baby teeth up toward the sun, throwing them to Allah.
In South Korea, the tradition is to throw teeth on the roof. Tradition says if a magpie, the national bird, finds the tooth, it brings a gift or good luck.
In Japan, upper teeth get thrown down to the ground while lower teeth get thrown in the air. This is believed to help the teeth grow straight.
The modern tooth fairy has only been around for about a century or so, but there were previous versions across cultures. Today, many cultures have variations of the tooth fairy.