While brushing my teeth this morning, I glanced at the calendar in the bathroom and noticed the reminder to visit the dentist today at eleven o’clock. I’ll be going in for my thrice yearly checkup and cleaning.
The little note triggered a dim memory of losing one of my baby teeth. I was told to place the tooth under my pillow so the tooth fairy could find it. Sure enough, the next morning there was some money where the tooth had been. I think it was a quarter. Most Americans remember something similar happening to them, too.
Believing in the Tooth Fairy was easier than believing in Santa Claus. The tooth fairy visit happened when I no longer believed in Santa. Anyway, the story of Santa seemed preposterous, because our house didn’t have a fireplace. Not only that, but I remember catching dad in the act of placing presents under the tree when I got out of bed for a drink of water. I can only guess why I believed in fairies long after the Santa myth was debunked.
Apparently the American version of the Tooth Fairy is rooted in antique European beliefs and superstitions. An aunt told me that children in the old country, Sweden, had a tooth fee. That is, a payment was given to little children for the use of one of their teeth. In the days of the Vikings baby teeth were strung onto necklaces. The Vikings believed that children’s belongings and especially their teeth held great spiritual powers. A necklace with a child’s baby tooth was said to bring good luck and special power to the warrior who wore it.
In some other areas of Europe, baby teeth were buried in a garden or cropland. Some people believed that the spirits of growing seeds would supernaturally influence the spirit of a growing adult tooth to successfully take the place of the lost tooth in the child’s mouth.
The widespread fears about witches convinced many Europeans that witches would use a lost tooth or fingernail clippings to place a curse on the youngster. The act of burying the baby tooth (or nail clippings) prevented the evil being from placing a curse. Also, during medieval times, some peoples believed that baby teeth were to be cast into the fire of the hearth in order to save the child from an inauspicious afterlife.
When Europeans migrated to North America, their superstitions and beliefs followed and were adapted to more urban circumstances. Since many people no longer worked the land, planter boxes and flower pots were substituted for cropland. Baby teeth were then buried in flower pot dirt. However, except for the Scandinavian traditions, there was never a pay out to the child who lost a tooth.
One hypothesis states that the urbanization of baby tooth myths and superstitions caused people to adapt their beliefs about evil witches and demon possession into benevolent spirits. These days the Tooth Fairy is often depicted as a small, happy winged humanoid with wings and carrying a magic wand. The Tooth Fairy is either female or non-gendered.
The current incarnation of the Tooth Fairy is sometimes thought to have emerged during the early part of the 20th century by way of bedtime stories told to small children. Perhaps the stories were variations on the “Night Before Christmas” poem. In the place of Santa, a sprite or fairy arrives to exchange the tooth for a small gift. There are so many myths about the Tooth Fairy that it’s difficult to know exactly how the modern version was born.
So, why does the Tooth Fairy collect all those baby teeth? Some parents tell their kids the Tooth Fairy needs them in order to construct a castle in heaven. Some parents say that the Tooth Fairy throws the teeth far into the sky to create the stars. I don’t remember what or if my parents told me about the fate of my baby teeth. I suppose I like the story of teeth becoming stars best.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says that when we find out that Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and so forth are only stories society tells us, we are free to write the stories of our own lives, in our own ways.