Have you ever wondered where the Tooth Fairy came from? Everyone knows about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the two other generous heroes of childhood, but the Tooth Fairy is shrouded in mystery. All most people know about her is that when a child places a lost tooth under her pillow, the Tooth Fairy will come and replace it with money. How and when did this practice begin?
Children have, of course, always lost their baby teeth. For some kids this can be a traumatic moment, and all human cultures have had rituals to dispose of these teeth that varied from burial to burning to offering them to animals. Often these animals have been mice or other types of rodents because rodents have very strong teeth that never stop growing. Offering them the lost tooth was a request for a new strong and healthy tooth to replace it. The Tooth Fairy mythology seems to have evolved from this. Before the 20th century, the closest thing to the Tooth Fairy story was a French fairy tale called La Bonne Petite Souris, in which a fairy mouse rescues a good queen from a bad king and in the process knocks out his teeth and leaves them under his pillow.
The Tooth Fairy has only been human since the 20th century. She first appeared in print in 1927 in a short play for children written by Esther Watkins Arnold. She wasn’t a regular visitor to children in the 1920s, though. The post-WWII prosperity and American society’s new focus on children made the practice of tucking teeth under pillows much more common, and Walt Disney’s children’s movies like Peter Pan and Cinderella gave kids a better idea of what she might look like. The Tooth Fairy has never had a specific face or appearance, though, unlike Santa Claus.
For a time there was even a Tooth Fairy Museum, run by a Northwestern Dental School professor named Rosemary Wells out of her own home. Wells spent years trying to track down where the Tooth Fairy came from and why millions of children were leaving her notes under their pillows at night, and she developed quite a collection of materials doing so.
So how much does the Tooth Fairy leave for a tooth? It has gone up over time with inflation. Between 1900 and 1975 the going rate rose from 12 cents to 85 cents per tooth. Visa recently did a survey and found that the average take for an individual tooth is $3.70 now, although this certainly varies from place to place and household to household.
Dental Associates of West Michigan encourages parents to play the Tooth Fairy to make this period of losing teeth fun for kids, but we’d also like them to emphasize that healthy practices like brushing and flossing are what will result in good teeth for the long term. Healthy teeth are a life-long treasure!