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The Tooth Fairy
Legends and Plays

The Tooth Fairy
Many children around the world are well acquainted with the Tooth Fairy—a fantasy figure in Western and Western-influenced cultures. According to folklore, when children lose baby teeth, they tuck them underneath their pillows at bedtime. During the night, the Tooth Fairy flutters in and replaces the tooth with a small amount of money or a token gift.

The tale of the Tooth Fairy is well known in Canada, England, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as other countries. America’s Tooth Fairy tradition can be traced back to the 1920s, but the story is rooted in a range of superstitions once prevalent throughout medieval Europe.

For centuries, many cultures have ritualized ways of disposing teeth. In medieval Europe, lost baby teeth were burned. People believed that if the teeth weren’t destroyed, witches could obtain the teeth and use them to gain control of the children. 

There are many other superstitions. In Facts, Fads, and Fancies About Teeth, Henry Lovejoy Ambler writes, “When children shed their first teeth, it is considered necessary to burn them; for if the cast-off teeth are destroyed in any other way, they will be succeeded by cat’s teeth.” (p. 302)
In Japan, China, and India, children tossed their lost bottom teeth to the floor and their lost top teeth to the roof. In Spanish-speaking countries, many children believe in Ratoncito Perez—a mouse that collects teeth and leaves small gifts.

Spain’s myth is common in France as well. The eighteenth century fairy tale, La Bonne Petite Souris tells of a queen who was imprisoned by an evil king. She received assistance from a mouse who turned out to be a fairy. The benevolent mouse emancipated the queen and knocked the king’s teeth out.  The fairy-mouse then hid the teeth under the king’s pillow. 
 In the 1920’s, La Bonne Petite Souris was re-released in English as an illustrated children’s book. The sketches enabled the mouse-as-a-fairy concept to take flight. The Tooth Fairy also made a star debut in the 1927 play, The Tooth Fairy by Esther Watkins Arnold. In 1950, Disney introduced the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Although the legend of the Tooth Fairy was known in America, the story became popularized after World War II when incomes rose.
 In Fairy Tales, Legends and Romances, Joseph Ritson writes, “The earliest mention of Fairies is made by Homer, if, that is, his English translator have, in this instance, done him justice—

 ‘Where round the bed, whence Achelous springs,
The wat’ry Fairies dance in many rings’” (p. 9)

In Fairies, G. M. Faulding writes,

This is the true home of the fairies, and we need not wonder that they prefer for the most part to dwell there in hiding, behind the glimmering ramparts and the gates of which we have glimpses now and then, making excursions of course—for they are an adventurous race—into our human world, but liable to retreat suddenly on a flash of rainbow wings, hurling back a shower of silvery arrows, flame-tipped with laughter, at all those matter-of-fact, sturdy mortals who call themselves the sons of Common Sense, but who nevertheless gaze after them wistful-eyed from the hither side of the fairy frontier. (p. 5 )

By Regina Molaro

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