Most American kids have been visited by the tooth fairy – generally envisioned as a Tinkerbell-type character who gives children a financial reward in exchange for their baby teeth.
Kids lose their 20 primary teeth between the ages of 5 to 12. The primary – or “baby” teeth loosen as adult teeth move up in the jaw and absorbs the primary teeth’s roots. Typically a kid will lose their two bottom front teeth first, followed by the two top front teeth, then the top and bottom incisors, in that order, by age seven or eight. The rest of those primary teeth, cupids to primary molars, usually fall out between the age of 10 to 12.
The concept of doing something special with a child’s first teeth isn’t unique to the U.S. As an article in Salon notes, “every recorded human culture has some kind of tradition surrounding the disposal of a child’s lost baby teeth.”
These traditions included:
- Throwing the tooth at the sun
- Throwing the tooth into a fire
- Throwing a tooth onto the roof of one’s house
- Burying the tooth
- Placing the tooth in a tree
- Purposefully swallowing the tooth (either the child who lost it, or the child’s mom
- Placing the tooth into a mouse or rat hole
Globally, the role of the Tooth Fairy is typically played by a mouse or a rat:
“… everywhere from Russia to New Zealand to Mexico, (tradition) involves offering the lost tooth as a sacrifice to a mouse or rat, in the hopes that the child’s adult teeth will grow in as strong and sturdy as the rodent’s — a wish for transference that anthropologists call sympathetic magic.”
The tooth rat (or mouse) will typically leave the child some money in exchange for the tooth. In several Spanish-speaking cultures, he’s known as “Ratóncito Pérez” or “El Raton de Los Dientes” AKA: el Ratón.” French children call him “La Petite Souris,” and he appears in French folktales as early as the 17th century. Italian children have a “Topolino dei denti da latte,” (tooth mouse) or, in some parts of Italy, a “tooth saint,” who will drop by to swap sweets for the lost tooth. (Italians typically refer to the tooth fairy as an example of things that are very unlikely to happen or exist)
America’s own Tooth Fairy is a juxtaposition of cultural traditions from around the world, made perky with a pop of Disney-style magic. She wasn’t really established in the U.S until 1940s– the first print mention of her is in 1927, and social scientists date the tooth fairy’s inception to the beginning of the 20th century.
So the tooth fairy was a spirit in search of a physical image right around the time Disney was first releasing films (Pinocchio, Cinderella) featuring kind, nurturing magical beings that took a personal interest in humans and their wishes. Most American kids, asked to describe the Tooth Fairy, will describe a being with obviously Disney-influenced characteristics. Traditionally, fairies tend to be far more surly and self-involved than the perky New World/New Age image of the Fair Folk – and really, aren’t we all?
Anyway, if you’re a big fan of the tooth fairy, you might want to start your celebratory plans now. Or feel free to delay a bit because apparently, there are two National Tooth Fairy Day(s), the “unofficial” National holiday is celebrated annually on August 22nd and/or February 28th. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.