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The Origin of the Tooth Fairy

If you grew up in the United States, it’s a safe bet that you’ve probably at least heard of the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy is a mythical sprite who is said to fly into children's’ bedrooms at night, to take fallen baby teeth that were left under children's’ pillows for her- and swap those teeth out for a reward (usually money). But where did the story of the tooth fairy come from?

If you look around the world at traditions to celebrate lost teeth, you will find that many other countries have their own very similar myths- but the use of a humanoid fairy is only found in America. In Spanish-speaking countries, for example, children leave their teeth out at night for a rat or mouse named Ratóncito Pérez. In France, children also leave their teeth for a mouse, but his name is La Petite Souris. Unlike the tooth fairy, though, traditions like La Petite Souris have been found in French literature dating back to the 17th century. The first mention of the American tooth fairy only dates back to 1927, in a playlet entitled "The Tooth Fairy." Unfortunately, the 8 page, three-act children’s play doesn’t go into any detail about the fairy herself, or how her tradition got started.

But while we don’t know exactly when the tradition of the tooth fairy actually began, researchers have a pretty good idea. They estimate she first made her way into American culture in the early 1900’s, right around the time that animated Disney movies were beginning to appear in theaters. Capitalizing on the popularity of fairies in such films as Pinocchio and Cinderella, the tooth fairy soon became a household name, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So why even have a tooth fairy? It’s expensive, and frankly, it’s maybe a little gross. Well, anthropologists believe that concepts like the tooth fairy and her rodent counterparts were started to help children ease into an otherwise scary transition into adulthood. Losing a tooth can often be a disturbing experience-so creating a myth that a friendly animal or person comes and takes those teeth away was most likely done with the intention of making this experience a lot less scary. Leaving a treat (whether it be money, candy, or another prize) just sweetened the deal that much more.

If you have any concerns about your child’s adult teeth coming in, give our office a call at 910-791-7911 and set up an exam.

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Michele Simpson DDS

Wilmington Dental Office

3317 Masonboro Loop Rd • Suite 140 • Wilmington, NC 28409

(910) 550-3959