Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Tooth Fairy: Mouse or Menace

And the devil in the black dress watches over
My guardian angel walks away
Life is short and love is always over in the morning
Black wind come carry me far away
--Temple of Love, The Sisters of Mercy

Good morning!  I have been loving Rachel Harrie's Writer's Campaign.  I'm steadily visiting lots of new blogs and meeting so many talented folks.  If you've stopped by and I haven't followed you back, please let me know!  Now, on to Sunday's mythbusting.
Armed with a backpack that made him look like a giant turtle, my son reigned victorious over his first week of kindergarten.  He also returned with a valuable bit of information, thanks to a loose tooth and kindergarten lore.
“Mommy, the tooth fairy is going to bring me a lot of money for my tooth when it falls out.”

My boy looked a lot like this during his declaration.

Ah, the currency of calcium.  A child has 20 deciduous or “baby teeth” to lose between the ages of 6 and 12.  For most cultures, it’s a simple rite of passage.  To lessen the blow of leaving childhood, the idea of a benevolent spirit purchasing a freshly extracted tooth has become well accepted.  But before I started this post, I had no idea where this myth came from.  To my surprise, there was no dentist to blame.
Teeth have long been symbols of power, luck, and protection.  Teething rituals date back to ancient times with the earliest mentions of the tradition in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, the most extensive written account of Norse poetry and mythology.  Viking folk were quite wary of witchcraft and demons, and believed that teeth offered a pearly protection.  If a child lost a tooth, their warrior parent would give them a “tooth fee” for it.  The Vikings often wore them as jewelry; a toothy talisman against demons.  This tradition is still practiced today by warriors of the celebrity sect, as shown by my favorite Rocky Horror sweetheart, Susan Sarandon.  Here she wears a bracelet made from her daughter's baby teeth.

I actually think this is kinda cool.  Photo from

Native Americans often used teeth in their medicine bags, believing them to have powers in love and protection magic.  Gypsy lore suggests that parts of another human--like nail clippings, hair, or teeth--can be used in sympathetic magic.  This is similar to how voodoo dolls are used.  For that reason, they would destroy lost teeth in a fire, or in some cases, have an adult swallow them.  Yum!
I suspect that’s something Paula Deen will NOT be covering in butter anytime soon.
Some cultures buried lost teeth to help the child “grow a new one.”  In Asia and Africa, teeth were thrown on the roof for scavenger animals to retrieve.  Supposedly if a mouse or rat ate the tooth, that would ensure future sharp teeth for the child. 
Speaking of the order Rodentia, the Europeans seemed quite taken with tales of mice with tooth fetishes.  In Scotland, a white rat purchased lost teeth.  In Spain, “Ratoncito Perez," aka Perez the little mouse, promised money for each lost tooth.  Italy, Germany, and the Czechs all had their own version of the tooth mouse.  Not to be outdone, the Finnish went so far as to create a “tooth troll,” a vile creature named Hammaspiekko that would drill holes in children's teeth if they ate too much candy.  

Now that’s something you don’t read in a Dr. Spock baby book.  Although this clip from Metalocalypse is enough to make me stop eating candy.  And serves as a reminder to let my kid know that teeth only grow back once.
At some point, the tooth mouse morphed into a fairy, and an 18th century story called La Bonne Petite Souris (The Good Little Mouse) may be the reason.  In this tale, a beautiful fairy disguised as a mouse saves a princess from an evil king by repeatedly biting him in the face, ultimately causing his death.  It’s probably much more poetic in French.  
The diabolical tooth mouse.
America helped the tooth fairy finally wax her whiskers and became a proper lady.  A three act play titled “The Tooth Fairy” came out in 1927, but the first published children’s story on the subject as we know it is believed to be by Lee Rogow in 1949.  Some folklorists think that once Rogow’s story established the legend, the media, post-war affluence, and a more child-centered mindset in American families allowed the Tooth Fairy to take her place with Santa, The Easter Bunny and The Great Pumpkin.  

What pre teen boys hope the tooth fairy looks like.  Drawing by 14-bis on deviantArt from google

What the tooth fairy actually looks like.  Drawing by wolfgangmustdie on deviantArt from google
Rosemary Wells, a professor at Northwestern University Dental School, was a leading tooth fairy authority.  She had an extensive collection of tooth memorabilia showcased in The Tooth Fairy Museum in Deerfield, Illinois (now defunct).  Her research showed that the idea of a tooth fairy and treats in exchange for teeth was universally shared in most cultures as a way to soothe the transition from child to adult.  Simply, it was a way to get children to look forward to something normally unsettling.
The Tooth Fairy still shows up in popular media.  Take 2010‘s creatively named cinematic zenith, “The Tooth Fairy,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  Didn’t see it?   I guess mouse to fairy to WWE warlord was a folkloric jump people were not willing to make.  Give it another 100 years. 

In literature, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has a story line of tooth fairies who possibly originated from the bogeyman.  His fairies always carry pliers in case they can’t make change and need to extract an extra tooth to make it all even.  For horror lovers, Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon follows a cannibalistic serial killer nicknamed, “The Tooth Fairy.”
Tasty Teeth, a Hellboy story from Guillermo del Toro, tells how tribes of fairies would suck the marrow from children’s bones.  In 1226 Pope Honorius made a pact with the King of the Fairies to end the carnage--the fairies got children’s teeth in exchange for a silver coin.  According to the story, children stopped believing in the fairies, so they started their grisly marrow suckage again.  Grenades and explosions followed soon after.  Gotta love Hellboy.
The Tooth Fairy is a myth that most people can easily give up.  But my six year-old?

Anyone got a set of fairy wings I can borrow?


  1. Yick, there's some horrors among that lot, marrow sucking for starters!

    I kept all the teeth that my 2 girls lost in a tiny jewellery box, locked so they wouldn't find them. Some years ago we were robbed and it was taken. I was devastated of course, but couldn't help a little chuckle at the thought of the thief's face when he went to the effort of busting the lock open :-)

  2. Learn something new every day. Thanks for the fun and informative post. I left my daughter a note from the tooth fairy when she lost her first tooth. She still has it and I still have the tooth (in a box - not on a bracelet).

  3. I wondered if you'd mention the tooth fairies from Hellboy! I feel bad for The Rock. From feared wrestler to fairy. No man deserves that kind of punishment.

  4. Out of curiosity, does your son know how much money the toothfairy leaves for each tooth? I hear it ranges anywhere between 25 cents and 5 dollars per tooth.

  5. Jules, this was a super interesting post. It's funny, because when I read about Sarandon, my first thought was, 'That's kinda creepy.' But then I read your thoughts on the matter and smiled.

    There are some interesting interpretations of teeth in dreams that have been passed down in my family. The one that is coming to mind, now, is that if you loose teeth in a dream, you won't die soon.

    My husband got his wisdom teeth pulled this past week at 40. Mid-life tooth loss. I'm wondering what, if anything, this bodes for him ...

  6. The fun part about the tooth fairy was when I got a note with the money. Who knew there were so many legends about this fairy? I'm glad I didn't grow up Finnish. I would've been afraid of losing all my teeth.

  7. I had no idea there were so many legends! My youngest just reined victorious over his first week of kinder too. He passed the first lost tooth rite earlier this summer (losing two teeth within 10 days of each other) on the heels of his older brother losing 3 in a week! Poor tooth fairy was exhausted stopping by our house so many times that she actually FORGOT to take the last offering. Not to mention broke, LOL

    I'm not sure I'd want a piece of jewelry made of teeth but I like the idea of including one in a medicine bag.

    BTW, K. Turley, the tooth fairy is cheap in our house (4 kids = lots of teeth to reimburse for): first tooth earns a bicentennial half dollar, following teeth earn 50 cents, and molars earn a dollar. If we're traveling the tooth fairy pays the equivalent in the local currency.

  8. Hi Julie, Nice bit of viking lore. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Hope you are having a great week-end. Off to explore your place some more :)

  9. Sarah--I would hope he marks your house as one never to rob again--probably scared the hell out of him to think what happened to those poor children whose teeth he stole

    B.E.--there are entire websites dedicated to letters from the tooth fairy, you can even buy authentic "tooth fairy dust". Capitalism.

    Alex--Yeah, kind of hard to go back to being taken seriously for a beat down after you've worn sparkly wings.

    K.Turley--I'm hoping they take a check. I read that some parent in Manhattan paid her kid 10 grand for a first lost tooth. Inflation. Actually, I'll probably get one of those dollar coins--the kids think the change is worth more than dollar bills now anyway.

    Suze--Hah! I know, I'm sort of fascinated with the semi-macabre. There's this artist named Beksinski that I recently stumbled on and had to have a print of his "Lovers" work because it was so gruesomely beautiful.

    That is interesting dream lore. Since teeth seem to leave in youth and old age, maybe it means coming into more responsibility or losing autonomy? Your hubby should get a medal for wisdoms--those suckers are terrible to have taken out. Hope the poor guy likes jello and mashed potatoes.

    Robyn--I didn't go to the dentist until I was 14. Lucked out with only 2 cavities--but I still hate that drill. I'm going to tell my kids the story of the troll so maybe they'll avoid that.

    raelyn--Congrats on the successful week at kindergarten. I don't know who was more worried, me or the kid. Yeah, there is something skeevishly delightful about having my kids' teeth on a piece of jewelry. I may have to ponder it. And holy crap, you have the monetary system for teeth down. I'm taking your guidance.

  10. Siv--That means a lot coming from a Nordic master! Loved your Thor piece.

  11. Oldest beastie is 13, I've had some practice, LOL

  12. What a fun, interesting post on teeth and tooth fairies! You made me laugh when you said, "Ah, the currency of calcium." - So clever, love it!

    Wow, am I ever grateful the tooth mouse was changed to a tooth fairy! A tooth mouse would really freak me out!

    Thanks for your kind comment on my daughter's artwork on my blog- that means a lot to my daughter and to me!

  13. Julie, this was fascinating. I never thought about how the tooth fairy came about. It's not something we tell our children in Jamaica, but they learn about it from watching cable tv. So based on the foregoing, you know I don't have any fairy wings lying around. Enjoy your holiday!

  14. Brenda--thanks for stopping by! I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I guess I can consider it parenting preparation as well.

    J.L.--the media is an amazing thing! I shudder to think what my kids are learning from cable TV. I hope you are enjoying your weekend as well.

  15. i could write a book on creative ways to play tooth fairy! especially when you forget, a whole chapter on excuses!
    great pics! and stop by my blog for a handy dandy list of our group, if you want =)

  16. Ahhhh, the joy of kids after a first day at school. I remember my mum telling me that on return from my brother's first day, his question was "mum, does a snake have eyelids"! Anyhooo, great research done here Julie and I might actually pull one of my own for a visit from the fat purple guy!
    Love it :-)

  17. I remember how exciting it was finding money under my pillow. Pure magic!

  18. Super interesting Julie. My tooth fairy advice is don't give your kids $5.00 for a tooth unless you can keep it up. That was my rookie mistake.

  19. Just stopping by to say hello. I'm part of your campaigner group. (15, adult fiction.)

    This was fascinating! I never knew there was so much to the tooth fairy myth. I think I'm going to go with the tooth mouse with my kids someday. :)

  20. Wow, where do you FIND all this stuff?? (Silly question in the age of Google, I guess, but still. . .) Love the history, especially the Norsemen paying their children 'tooth fees' (oh, and of course, Susan S's bracelet!).

  21. Very interesting. We have been talking about the Tooth Fairy lately. My youngest has a loose tooth (his second) but the new tooth already grew in behind it. So it's stuck. He refuses to wiggle it and get it out. It's been there for weeks and weeks. He was very chicken about the first one too. So just last night I wiggled his snaggletooth in his sleep for about 5 minutes and plan to every night til it comes out.

  22. I always learn so much from reading your blog!

    My dad told me as a little kid that he was friends with the tooth fairy. He even described what she looked like. Remembering his description as an adult, she apparently looks just like Tinkerbell!

  23. I always learn so much from reading your blog.

    My dad told me when I was a little kid that he was good friends with the Tooth Fairy and he even described what she looked like. Apparently, the Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell look an awful lot alike!

  24. I find the tooth fairy an odd tradition. But hey, free money. :) Well, at least when you're a kid...

  25. Great post! My son called the dentist the tooth fairy for a while.

  26. Tara--I have to make sure I set an alarm when the big day comes so I don't forget. The list is awesome--that must have taken you some time, thanks for doing it!

    YONKS--I think the purple guy is sort of charming. I think snakes do have eyelids.

    Carol--Me too. I think there's a lack of magic in adulthood. I may start leaving myself a coin or two under a pillow. Although, I guess now that has a completely different connotation

    Angie--I'm coming to your house to lose teeth! That's like a latte a tooth.

    Cjanelle--thank you for stopping by! Tooth mice could potentially be sort of cute, like Cinderella's mice.

    Linda--where would we be without Google?

    Kelly--Imagining you secretly wiggling your kid's tooth in the middle of the night had me giggling for half an hour. If he wakes up, Lucy's gonna need to do some 'splainin'.

    Sprinkles--You never know, maybe Tinkerbell stole the tooth fairy's look. Your dad sounds like a riot.

    Libby--I guess I've paid money for stranger things. I would tell you what, but I'm worried you won't come back.

    E.--The only reason wings would ever spring from my dentist's back is because he is the drill wielding spawn of the devil.


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