The tradition of the tooth fairy and forgetting to hide baby teeth under the pillow

CJ Coombs
Did you imagine the tooth fairy would look like this when you were a child?Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash.

Your role with the loss of your child’s tooth

If you forgot, it’s happened to the best of us. The first thing parents usually do is provide another story explaining what might have happened. Do you feel bad when you forget? Well, not finding the tooth box or the tooth bag that was supposed to be under the pillow is one thing, but completely forgetting altogether is another. So, you could have different levels of self-guilt.

The worst part is if you built up your child’s anticipation for the Tooth Fairy in the past week or two, and after the tooth hiding protocols were in place, your child comes to you early the next morning to share the Tooth Fairy forgot to stop at the house. It’s an awful feeling for everyone involved.

I had the experience and have knowledge of others who also forgot. When your children are adults and they start to have children (your grandchildren), when they start losing teeth, do you find yourself reminding your children not to forget?

When you do forget, what do you do? I think you know the answer to that. You make up a story to explain why the Tooth Fairy didn’t show up so you don’t look so bad, right? And if your child keeps asking questions, you keep making up more story chapters.

I know some people think of the legends of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy as contradictions to the big lesson we teach our children about never telling a lie.

This article, however, is more about the history of that mystical tooth fairy than your self-guilt when you forgot the tooth cash gift.

The tooth fairy tradition influences imagination

Do these imaginary figures of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy influence children to keep imagination alive after all? I think so.

When you share the story of the tooth fairy with a child, you stimulate the imagination. Since so much of a child’s imagination is distracted by being overwhelmed with becoming productive in society with a regimen of a lot of structure, homework, walking in a straight line to the cafeteria, etc., why not promote imagination?

There are a lot of dentistry offices around the country that discuss the legend of the tooth fairy on their websites. Their primary goal is to instill good dental hygiene practices. That’s a parent’s goal too.

Inasmuch as Santa Claus (did you ever read The Polar Express? We all want to believe in mystical magic) and the Easter Bunny (Peter Cottontail?) have infiltrated family traditions, the Tooth Fairy is going to teach your child how to save money too!

I thought it was interesting there was a note from the Tooth Fairy on Delta Dental’s website:

For both young and young at heart, my legend stimulates the imagination and reminds people that it’s okay to believe in magic.(Source.) [Emphasis added.]

The tooth fairy myth has been around forever

The disposal of baby teeth is associated with different traditions throughout different cultures and all of which have been practiced for centuries in some countries and decades in others.

According to a blog on the Perfect Teeth for Kids’ website,

Some threw the teeth into a fire, others over the roof of a home, and others felt the teeth should be buried. Early European traditions suggested burying the teeth to prevent hardships for the child, while other cultures would wear their children’s teeth to enjoy better luck during battle. (Source.)

On Delta Dental’s site, it states, “Norse warriors would buy children’s baby teeth to use as good luck charms in battle.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we all develop a belief system to get us through an event, right?

Some cultures believe in a tooth mouse which is similar to the tooth fairy but having a mouse sneak under your child’s pillow is kind of creepy!

The European traditions trickled into North America

It’s possible North America took pieces of European traditions to give in to formulating what’s practiced today with the Tooth Fairy which has been around since the early 1900s. See below for other traditional practices associated with losing those baby teeth.

Argentina and Sweden — Practices in these countries include leaving the tooth in a glass of water, probably because a mouse gets thirsty too. Some money is left and the mouse drinks the water (you know like Santa drinks the milk left behind in the United States).

China — Traditions vary in this country but similar to other Asian countries, lower teeth are put on roofs and upper teeth are buried in the ground. Some teeth are above or below the bed. They wish for their adult teeth to come in straight. In the United States, all teeth, upper or lower, are put under the pillow.

In some Chinese countries, upper teeth are placed at the foot of the bed and Vietnamese and Cambodian children put upper teeth under their bed. Indonesian children throw their teeth backward onto a roof.

France — Interestingly, I found an article written by Margo Lestz who lives in Nice, France entitled The tooth fairy in France is a mouse that was posted on The Good Life France blog. The article confirmed the tooth fairy in France is a giving mouse called the little mouse (La Petite Souris). Lestz is a published author.

Italy — On the Me and Mom Tuscany with Maria Rocco site, the tooth fairy is also a mouse referred to as Topolino which means ”Little Mouse” — an Italian phrase of endearment for their loved ones.

Japan — Instead of having a tooth fairy, parents allegedly treat upper and lower lost teeth differently. The top teeth are thrown into the dirt (maybe to signify adult teeth will grow straight up) and bottom teeth are thrown up into the sky or onto a roof. Most Asian teeth are said to be thrown on top of roofs.

Jordan, Egypt, and other countries in the Middle East — In these countries, the children take their teeth and toss them into the air towards the sun. It symbolizes their request for strong adult teeth to grow in. It’s believed that this practice dates back to the 13th century.

South Africa — Teeth are placed in slippers to be collected by the magic mouse. Some suggest the mouse uses the teeth to build a castle.

Spain — According to Oakboro Family Dentistry in North Carolina, the tooth fairy in Spanish-speaking countries is a little mouse named Ratoncito Pérez originating in Madrid in the late 1800s.

Turkey — Baby teeth are buried somewhere where parents believe will bring success to their children. As an example, if you want your child to be a doctor, you would bury the baby teeth by a hospital.

The Tooth Fairy doesn’t just visit kids in Canada. They also make the rounds in the United States, Great Britain and most of Northern Europe. (Source.)

The Tooth Fairy keeps up with inflation

As a child, I remember my tooth fee went from 25 cents to 75 cents over a period of years. I banked on the last tooth with 75 cents.

In 1998, Delta Dental started a poll on the tooth fee rolling out those figures into their trademarked Tooth Fairy Index. Below is the chart from Delta Dental’s site suggesting the increase in the tooth fee is in line with our economy. Note the going rate for a lost tooth now is $4.70 (pain from a tooth detaching from the gum has value, right?).

What do you suppose happens when children start comparing their teeth earnings — is it similar to when certain employees start comparing their salaries?

What do you think would have happened if the 50 cents I used to receive were the same going forward for everyone?

  • Some parents might increase the gift to stir comparison.
  • Some might still lean on being conservative.
  • Some might really just want to reward good teeth brushing habits.
  • And there’s this — losing that first tooth is a big deal!
  • Some parents call friends and ask them what the going rate is for a tooth prize? Is it a hard decision?

Technology and the tooth fairy

There is a Tooth Fairy app available at the Google Play Store — the Call Tooth Fairy Simulator app, and according to one customer, she thinks it’s great:

This app is the best. The tooth fairy kept forgetting to come to our house, but this helped Brighten my child’s mood, that he could leave a message for the tooth fairy to come and finally she did. (Source.)

Have you ever told your child that there might be a bigger tooth reward from the tooth fairy if they brush their teeth well? Or maybe you don’t leave money and consider leaving a new toothbrush instead.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms, and I retired early so I could be a writer all day. You could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri because I was born into the Air Force life. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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