Childhood is riddled with all sorts of stories about ghosts and monsters and angels. One magical creature welcomed in the home was the tooth fairy. Children all over the world know what she’s come for, but where did she come from?
The Tooth Mouse
The tooth fairy story prevalent in the Western folklore isn’t unique. In many cultures all over the world, various traditions deal with the disposal of baby teeth. The most common creature in these stories is the Tooth Mouse.
A popular variant — common everywhere in the world, from Russia to New Zealand all the way to Mexico — tells the story of a mouse that comes to get children’s teeth, leaving behind a gift or treasure. The mouse is also the main character in the French fairy tale “La Petite Souris” about a good mouse that hides the evil king’s teeth under his pillow.
Additionally, the Tooth Mouse became a favored character in folk tradition because parents hoped that children’s teeth would be as strong as a mouse’s. After all, with a tooth as sturdy as a mouse’s, you don’t have to worry about chipped or damaged teeth, which, according to Scott W. Grant, DMD, could be addressed through dental implants and veneers.
The Tooth Fairy Arrives in America
American parents thought that a magical fairy would be a more comforting concept to children who had just lost a tooth. Thus, the tooth fairy (with no hints of its rodent-like roots) was born.
But the story of the Tooth Fairy only truly took wing after the Second World War. Folklorist Tad Tuleja offered three reasons why the tale became so popular. First, increased wealth in post-war America allowed parents to give their children nickels in the name of the tooth fairy.
Second, the child became the center of the family, unlike the situation in pre-war America. The rite of passage from infancy to childhood became important. Lastly, the media popularized the tale and fostered a trust in the enchanted being, especially through Disney’s “Cinderella” and “Pinocchio,” who both had wish-granting fairies as their allies.
No matter where in the world, stories about growing up are a common theme. The Tooth Fairy has many forms, but so long as there are children who lose teeth (and so long as there are parents who are willing to hide spare change), she is here to stay.