Blog Post

History of the Tooth Fairy
Posted on 03/15/2017

History of the Tooth Fairy

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve dropped some cash or coin under his or her pillow at night in exchange for a lost baby tooth - just like your parents did for you. Our young patients tell us how exciting it is to wake up to the treasures left by the “tooth fairy.” But how did this American tradition come to be? Or is it even American? What is the legend behind the tooth fairy?

The Early Origins of the Tooth Fairy

the tooth fairyBesides Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy is the most known and beloved mythical figure in American culture. But while the origins of the first two can clearly be traced back to a combination of Christian and pagan traditions, with some recent tweaks from the marketing departments at Coca-Cola and Cadbury, respectively — far less is known about the third. It wasn’t until the 1990s that American professor Rosemary Wells began uncovering the myth behind the legend of the Tooth Fairy. 

There are many instances of rituals involving the disposal of teeth throughout history and in different cultures. The most well-known story of getting rid of baby teeth involves giving the lost tooth as a sacrifice to a mouse or rat (often with a certain prayer or song) so that the child’s adult teeth will grow in as strong and sturdy as the rodents. Anthropologists call this wish for transference “sympathetic magic.”  Lost tooth traditions involving a type of “Fairy Rat” can be found in Asian and European countries.

The Tooth Fairy in American Culture

The tooth fairy is thought to be a uniquely American hybrid of two preexisting figures: the mouse that takes the teeth and gives cash, and the general “good fairy,” a traditionally European figure that slowly made its way over the Atlantic.

The oldest oral references to the American version of the tooth fairy date her to approximately the turn of the 20th century, but the concept didn't really take off until after WWII. It is suggested that a few historical and literary events may have come into play to solidify the Tooth Fairy’s existence and expansion. After WWII, increased prosperity may have driven the popularity of giving money for a tooth. And, many believe the child-centered view of the American family began at this time as it became the norm to cater to their children. Lastly, it’s likely not a coincidence that at this time, Disney was also releasing animated films like “Pinocchio” and “Cinderella” — each of which features a benevolent, maternal fairy with the power to make wishes come true.

How Much is a Tooth Worth?

It is interesting to note that the Tooth Fairy’s monetary reward seems to be subject to inflation. Or, at least, she is getting more generous with age. Between 1900 and 1975, the average going rate of a lost tooth rose from 12 cents to 85 cents. Today, our patients get anywhere from $1-$5 per tooth!

little girl brushing her teeth

Our children’s dentistry sees evidence every day that the Tooth Fairy is alive and well. Pop culture continues to help solidify her in the mainstream and continues the tradition in American culture and beyond. She remains a universal symbol for quirky magic, growing up, and (if you’re a kid) the possibility of free cash.

Contact Your Local Honolulu Pediatric Dentistry Today!

If you need an excellent children’s dentistry to take care of your child’s teeth - give Pediatric Dentistry Kahala a call at (808) 737-0076. Dr. Allen Hirai and our staff are committed to offering comprehensive dental care in a friendly, comfortable environment for children in our Honolulu office. We look forward to servicing you soon!