Mom, Where Does the Tooth Fairy Come From?

March 3, 2014

If your child has ever asked you about the tooth fairy, you may find yourself at a loss. Santa’s origins, both mythical and factual, are well documented, but when it comes to the tooth fairy, there is little explanation. You may quickly come up with an answer (after all, what are parents for?), but you may still find yourself wondering about the tooth-obsessed little creature. In this post, your Lake Orion, MI children’s dentist gives a short explanation of the origins of the tooth fairy.

You’ve Heard of Dog Teeth… But Mouse Teeth?

In primitive cultures, tooth loss was shrouded in superstition. This was especially the case when a child lost his or her first tooth, but in some places the loss of any tooth – baby or adult – could have mystical consequences. If the wrong person got possession of the tooth, it could be used for various dark rituals and black magic. For this reason, ancient peoples disposed of teeth in elaborate ways. One of the most common ways was to feed the teeth to animals. Many believed that the animal that ate the tooth would pass on their dental qualities to the child. They often fed teeth to mice or rats so that children would grow to have strong, healthy teeth, just like these creatures.

Fairy Tales and Disney

Though these ancient superstitions died out long ago, mice continued to have a role in the cultural development of the tooth fairy. The French fairy tale of La Petite Souris recounts how a clever fairy conspired to take revenge on an evil king. One night, the fairy changed into a mouse and hid under the king’s pillow. During the night, she tormented the king, knocking his teeth out one by one. When he awoke in the morning, he was toothless. This French legend may be partially responsible for our American tooth fairy. Though she was part of oral tradition some years earlier, the first written mention of the tooth fairy was in 1927 when Esther Watkins Arnold published a children’s play called The Tooth Fairy. In 1949, Lee Rogow published a children’s story, also called “The Tooth Fairy.” Thanks to Walt Disney, Americans were experiencing a growing interest in fairy tales and fantasy, and at this time, the legend of the tooth fairy really took flight. During the economic boom of the 1980’s, American commercialization helped to seal her success. Manufacturers began to create dolls, toys, and accessories bedecked with the country’s most popular sprite.

Cultural Significance

While children are obviously enamored of the tooth fairy, many cultural analysts and social scientists are fascinated by her as well. They have conducted several tooth fairy studies, and they seek to understand her growth in popularity and her seemingly abiding presence in American culture. Cindy Dell Clark, author of “Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith,” suggests that the tooth fairy helps to ease children’s anxieties as they lose their baby teeth and take their first steps into adulthood. She notes with some amusement that the tooth fairy operates with a very American mentality, offering financial rewards in exchange for maturity and transition. Whatever the reasons, the tooth fairy’s popularity is undisputed. Rosemary Wells, a professor at Northwestern University Dental School, conducted a survey of 2,000 American parents and found that 97% had positive or neutral feelings about the tooth fairy.

About Brad Greenfield, DDS

Dr. Brad Greenfield practices family, restorative, cosmetic, and sedation dentistry with a holistic approach to patient care and comfort. To schedule an appointment with your 48360 dentist, call (248) 693-6213. We proudly serve patients of all ages in Clarkston, Auburn Hills, Oxford, Rochester Hills, and neighboring communities.


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