How the tooth fairy used to be the Tooth Mouse
The ancient rituals and myths of losing baby teeth

The tooth fairy doesn’t get around as much as you think.

The tooth fairy has been shown as a child with wings, a pixie, a dragon, a blue mother-figure, a flying ballerina, two little old men, a dental hygienist, a potbellied flying man smoking a cigar, a bat, a bear, amongst others.

Still, children in Botswana, for example, throw their lost tooth on the roof.

Historically, it’s teeth from their lower jaw that are launched roof-wise.

Upper jaw teeth go on the floor or even under it.

(The idea is the new tooth will be pulled towards the old tooth).

According to Salon.com, the idea of a fairy taking children’s lost teeth isn’t even 100 years old.

In mythological terms, that’s too young to cut your first tooth.

The first written record of the dental sprite was a 1927 eight-page mini-play.

But every recorded human culture has some kind of a tradition around lost baby teeth.

In the 1960s, the researcher B. R. Townend handily broke these down into nine basic types of ritual:

 

(1) the tooth was thrown into the sun

(2) thrown into the fire

(3) thrown between the legs

(4) thrown onto or over the roof of the house, often with an invocation to some animal or individual

(5) placed in a mouse hole near the stove or hearth or offered to some other animal

(6) buried

(7) hidden where animals couldn’t get it

(8) placed in a tree or on a wall

(9) swallowed by the mother, child or animal

 

The tooth fairy was inspired by an ancient tradition— the Tooth Mouse.

It’s still one of the world’s most widespread.

But… why a mouse?

Well, mice (and other rodents) have teeth that continually grow.

Children leave their teeth for the Tooth Mouse in hopes that they’ll get new teeth just as strong as his.

In many countries, children continue to hope that a mouse will take their tooth in exchange for money or a gift.

For French children, this is La Petite Souris.

In the original 17th folktale, a wrongly imprisoned queen asks a mouse for help.

The mouse happens out to be a fairy who frees the queen and knocks out the wicked king’s teeth.

The fairy-mouse then hides the teeth under the king’s pillow, before eventually having him assassinated.

In several Spanish-speaking nations, Ratóncito Pérez does the honors.

In his story, royalty appears again, but no assassination.

Ratóncito Pérez appeared as a tooth collector in a story commissioned for the 8-year old king of Spain Alfonso XIII.

This offering to the Tooth Mouse is often paired with a specific prayer or song.

In a pinch, any sturdy toothed animal will do!

Leo Kanner’s “Folklore of the Teeth,” from 1928, records similar ceremonies involving cats, dogs, squirrels, and beavers!

Throughout Central Asia, it’s traditional to put the tooth into some fat and feed it to a dog.

(Don’t try this at home).

An unlikely but accurate economic indicator, Tooth Fairy payouts are soaring.

Considering what the tooth fairy costs ($4.66 per tooth), maybe try leaving out a little cheese…

 

 

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.