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Tooth Fairy – Where did the Myth Come From?

Have you ever thought about the American tradition of the tooth fairy? It’s a little strange when you stop and think about it. Where did this odd tradition come from? Why on earth are we rewarding children for their lost teeth?

The concept of the tooth fairy as we know it is fairly modern, but the mythology and ceremony around disposing of baby teeth has evolved and changed over centuries.

In the earliest written records (C:1200) of Northern Europe and Norse traditions,  there is mention of “tand-fé” or “tooth fee”. Since baby teeth were said to bring good luck in battle, Scandinavian warriors often strung baby teeth on strings  and wore them as necklaces. In the middle ages, children in England were instructed to burn their baby teeth or be resigned to hardship in the afterlife, doomed to spend eternity searching for them.

The modern American incarnation of these traditions into an actual Tooth Fairy has been traced to a 1908 “Household Hints” item in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

Tooth Fairy.

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.

Lillian Brown

While in North America we dispose of baby teeth by way of the tooth fairy – many places around the world have their own traditions:

  • Burying the Tooth – Kids in Afghanistan bury lost teeth in a mouse hole, while parents in Turkey bury their children’s baby teeth in a place they think will bring their child success.
  • Placing It in a Slipper – In the country of South Africa, a lost tooth is placed in a slipper. A magical mouse takes it from the slipper and leaves a gift.
  • Tossing a Tooth – In many countries, such as India, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and China, people toss the tooth over the top of a roof. This tradition dates back centuries to Middle Eastern countries as well.
  • In a Glass – In Argentina, children put missing teeth in a glass by their bed and hope they’ll get a coin or candy in its place.
  • The Tooth in a Box – Most people in Mexico place a lost baby tooth into a small box next to a child’s bed. The legend is that a magical mouse will come to collect the tooth and leave some coins behind.

Do you do anything special or unique when your child loses a tooth? Let us know!