"Tooth Fairy" Sounds Better Than "Tooth Rat"!

"Tooth Fairy" Sounds Better Than "Tooth Rat"!
Posted on 02/20/2023
This is the image for the news article titled "Tooth Fairy" Sounds Better Than "Tooth Rat"!In the trifecta of the childhood figures of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, you know where our devotions lie! In our line of work, the central children’s figure has got to be the Tooth Fairy. But did you know that the Tooth Fairy is a fairly recent phenomenon?  The rituals around the disposal of children’s baby teeth are not new, though. Tooth loss rituals are found in many cultures around the world. The tooth mouse, also known as La Petite Souris ("the little mouse"), is a popular mythological figure in many European cultures. Talk about an overbite smile! Some of the cultures that have the myth of the tooth mouse include:

1.  France: The tooth mouse is called La Petite Souris and is said to take children's fallen teeth and leave small gifts or money in their place. This legend appears in French folktales as early as the 17th century.

2.  Spain: The tooth mouse is known as Ratoncito Pérez  and is believed to take children's lost teeth and leave a small gift or money in exchange. They even have a museum in Madrid depicting where he is supposed to have lived.

3.  Italy: In some regions of Italy, children believe in Topolino, a little mouse who takes teeth and leaves a small gift or money in exchange.

4.  Belgium: In Belgium, the tooth mouse is called the "tooth fee" and is said to exchange children's lost teeth for a small gift or money.

5.  Switzerland: In some parts of Switzerland, the tooth mouse is called Zahnfee and is believed to take children's teeth and leave small gifts or money.

The myth of the tooth mouse is also present in other European countries, including Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.

But why the Tooth Mouse? The tradition is to offer the tooth to a mouse or a rat in hopes that the child develops teeth as strong and healthy (minus the overbite!) as a rodent. Other animals such as cats, squirrels, and dogs have also received acknowledgement, but the mouse or rat seems to be the animal most synonymous with strong teeth.

Then there is the tooth throwing tradition. In the 13th century, Islamic scholar Ibn Abi el-Hadid referenced the Middle Eastern tradition of throwing a baby tooth into the sky (or "to the sun") and praying for a better tooth to replace it. Throwing teeth is a common practice: In Turkey, Mexico, and Greece, children traditionally toss their baby teeth onto the roof of their house. In India, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, lower teeth are thrown upward but teeth from the upper jaw are thrown to the floor, to encourage the new adult teeth to grow straight (trying to ward off that braces cost?). Traditions aren't always sunny, though—Norwegian and Finnish children are warned of Hammaspeikko, the "tooth troll" who comes for children who don’t brush.

The idea of the tooth fairy is most commonly found in Western cultures, especially in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom (and at an orthodontist in RI!). As we mentioned earlier, the Tooth Fairy is a relatively new to the scene. The earliest reference to the tooth swap for money concept in the form of a fairy is documented in writing from around 1927, though oral history reports her appearance around the turn of the century. The first reference to her in encyclopedias doesn’t appear until 1979 when the World Book encyclopedia listed a reference citation to her.  Her origins were such a mystery that a professor at the dental school at  Northwestern University named Rosemary Wells decided to investigate further. This wasn’t until the 1990’s! Professor Wells first wrote a series of magazine articles in which she laid out an overview of the tooth fairy myth. Then there was her survey, conducted among some 2,000 parents in the United States where she gained much of her understanding of popular culture’s acceptance of the Tooth Fairy. Years later,  Wells remained so enamored of her subject that she opened an entire museum dedicated to it, run out of her home in Deerfield, Ill. By then she had become the world’s expert on the tooth fairy, giving countless interviews and talks, and even appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Wells’ name became so synonymous with the dental character that she had to clarify things to the Chicago Tribune: “I’m not the Tooth Fairy,” she said. “I’m the Tooth Fairy consultant.” It said so on her business card. A spokesperson for the Chicago Dental Society added, “We have no position on the Tooth Fairy. I refer all inquiries to Ms. Wells.”

The western culture version of the Tooth Fairy seems to be a blend of the European cultures and our own Disney-enhanced culture where the tooth is left under the child’s pillow in trade for money or a prize but done this time by a benevolent “good” fairy. But what created this atmosphere where we all now take the tooth fairy as an accepted ritual of childhood? A study by Rosemary Wells and her research partner Tad Tuleja suggests three things that changed in American society following the end of WWII.  First, an increase in prosperity after the Great Depression.  Second, the child-centered view of the American family dates to this period too, when it became normal for parents to cater to their children. Creating a family ritual about the transition from infancy to childhood makes more sense in this context. And third, media culture! Just as Clement Moore created the modern American version of Santa Claus in the previous century, so too did the idea of good fairies and fairy godmothers run rampant on 1950s American childhoods thanks to Tinkerbell and Cinderella.

As we all know, the Tooth Fairy is a recurring character in modern cinema and has been portrayed by a diverse assortment of actors and actresses. The 2010 comedy Tooth Fairy cast former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a bruising hockey star who is pressed into Fairy-duty; the 2012 straight-to-video sequel reused the concept with comedian Larry the Cable Guy in the title role. Veteran actor Art LaFleur donned the wings for both The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3. Meanwhile, actress Isla Fisher voiced an animated (and extremely birdlike) version of the Tooth Fairy for the 2012 Golden-Globe nominated film Rise of the Guardians, while Amy Sedaris played a delightfully deranged version on the kiddie show Yo Gabba Gabba!

Our friend the tooth fairy seems to be so entrenched in our society that appears to be no end to the tooth for money swapping in sight. But how do parents know what the going rate is for a baby tooth? All studies point to tooth fairy rates trending with inflation. One of the dental insurance companies, Delta Dental has developed an up-to-the-minute Tooth Fairy Index™, where anyone can look up the going rate for a tooth. As of this writing that rate stood at a whopping $5.36!

The loss of baby teeth and the tooth fairy ritual is also a great time to remind your child of the importance of good oral hygiene. After all, the tooth fairy is paying good money for the teeth so she wants to make sure she is getting a good quality tooth in return! It’s a great time to discuss good brushing habits and how to prevent cavities. 

And when your child reaches the age of 7, it’s a great time to start visiting the best orthodontist in Rhode Island, Tollgate Orthodontics, where Dr. Daniel Eves can monitor their growth and check to make sure that those adult teeth are coming in as they should and fill you in on how teeth should look. Orthodontic treatment is not often needed as early as age 7, but monitoring at an early age can prevent more complicated procedures later.  Our consultations are free, and the appointments are easy and fun! You can reach us at 401-739-3900.