The Tooth Fairy: Where She Came From and Why

The Tooth Fairy: Where She Came From and Why
Posted on 09/21/2016

Traditionally, when children in the United States lose teeth, they put them under their pillows. During the night, their parents swap the teeth for a small amount of money and tell the children that the Tooth Fairy visited.

When your children lose their teeth, you may choose to follow this tradition. But how did it get started? Is there a point to it? If you want to learn more about the Tooth Fairy, keep reading. This blog will answer your questions.

What Are the Tooth Fairy's Early Origins?

Many cultures throughout history have used rituals or traditions to mark the time when a child loses a tooth. However, these rituals were performed for different reasons and in different ways.

A researcher named B. R. Townend studied historical tooth-loss rituals in the 1960s. He classified the various traditions he found into nine categories. When a child lost a tooth, the community would:

  1. Throw the tooth towards the sun.
  2. Throw the tooth into a fire.
  3. Throw the tooth between the child's legs.
  4. Throw the tooth onto the roof of the child's house.
  5. Put the tooth in a mouse's hole, often near the hearth or stove.
  6. Bury the tooth.
  7. Hide the tooth where animals would not find it.
  8. Put the tooth in a tree.
  9. Have the child, the child's mother, or an animal swallow the tooth.

These rituals are intended to produce different effects. For example, many traditional cultures (including in cultures in European countries like France and Spain) would offer the tooth to a mouse or rat as a way to wish that the child's new tooth would grow in as strong as a rat's tooth.

However, other traditions, such as hiding or burying the tooth, were more concerned with protection. Parents in medieval Europe would burn or bury the teeth so that witches could not take them, as the superstition was that a witch could control the child by holding the tooth.

While these traditions have mostly died out today, pieces of them live on. Many Spanish-speaking countries still tell their children about a mouse named Ratóncito Pérez, who is similar to the American Tooth Fairy.

How Did the Tooth Fairy's Legend Begin?

The Tooth Fairy is a uniquely American tradition, and it's relatively new. A 1927 book created the character, but it became popular during the time Disney released movies like Cinderella  and Pinocchio, both of which contain fairy figures that grant wishes to the main characters. Somehow, the traditional mouse that takes teeth and leaves money became a fairy for children in the United States.

However, unlike other children's figures like Santa Claus, the Tooth's Fairy's appearance isn't consistent. Though most people picture the Tooth Fairy as a woman, not everyone does. Professor Rosemary Wells, considered to be the leading expert on the Tooth Fairy, conducted a survey that showed that only about 74 percent of people believe that the Tooth Fairy is female. The rest are unsure or don't think it matters.

Children's books have also shown a lot of variety in their portrayal of the Tooth Fairy. While many picture the character as an older woman with wings and maybe a wand, other portrayals include a dragon, a ballerina, an old man, a bat, and a bear. Since the Tooth Fairy's legend is still fairly new, it may take many more years for it to become more detailed, if it ever does at all.

Why Do We Tell Children About the Tooth Fairy?

The Tooth Fairy is fictional, so why do we tell our children that she comes during the night to pay for their teeth? It seems like an odd choice, but many parents do it nonetheless.

Many experts believe that losing baby teeth is a rite of passage for young children, and as such, it can be both scary and exciting. Ritualizing the occasion through the Tooth Fairy provides both comfort and a sense of pride: the child can feel proud of "earning" money and feel less anxious about losing teeth.

Apparently most parents agree. Rosemary Wells's surveys show that about 97 percent of American parents have positive feelings about (or are at least neutral towards) the Tooth Fairy. This tradition will likely remain a part of American culture for years to come.


If you want your child to have a good experience when he or she loses baby teeth, consider using the Tooth Fairy to mark the occasion. To encourage healthy habits, you can take the tradition one step further: tell your children that the Tooth Fairy will pay them more for a healthy baby tooth and less for a decayed baby tooth. That way, you can encourage your children to brush their teeth well.

To keep your children's teeth healthy, you can also take them to Dentistry for Children & Adolescents. We're happy to teach them proper oral hygiene, no matter what they believe about the Tooth Fairy.


Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

  • Edina Office - 7373 France Ave. S., Suite 402, Edina, MN 55435 Phone: 952-831-4400
  • Burnsville Office - 14050 Nicollet Ave., Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 Phone: 952-435-4102
  • Eden Prairie Office - 6385 Old Shady Oak Road, Suite 150, Eden Prairie , MN 55344 Phone: 952-932-0920

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