Thursday August 3, 2006 

Dear Dr. Mady: All my life I have been hearing about and believing in the tooth fairy. Even today I have 3 young children and I find myself sneaking into their bedrooms after they fall asleep to retrieve their lost baby teeth and replace them with money. How did this belief start anyway and what is the tooth fairy all about?-Dana B.

Dear Dana: As I grew from a small child into a man I knew about, heard stories about and believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Boogie Man and even the Tooth Fairy, to mention a few. We all are raised with different beliefs, whether religious, superstitious, folklore, ethnic or beliefs related to fairy tales.

I always loved getting cookies and milk ready for Santa on Christmas Eve so he would have a full tummy on his journey around the world and back to the North Pole. Hey, I even used to tell stories myself about the Easter Bunny and how he lives in the forest with his rabbit buddies, coloring eggs and making baskets from the branches if trees and plants. Sometimes as a child I would be afraid to step out of bed because my Aunt Norma used to say that the Boogie Man was hiding under there at night. This is how she got me to stay in bed when I used to visit her. And of course, there is that other great benefactor of kids, the one and only Tooth Fairy.

There are many stories with respect to the origin and history of the tooth fairy, but the one that I have heard and believed in the most relates to history in Europe centuries ago. Back then it was a common habit that when a children start losing their primary (baby) teeth at the age of 5 to 7, for parents to take the teeth and bury them in the ground close to their homes.

The reasoning behind this was so that a new tooth would grow in its place. Also these European families believed that if any witch gained access to these teeth, they could potentially place a curse on their child who lost the tooth. They even believed the same about hair and fingernail trimmings. So the teeth were buried in hope that no witches could get at them and this would prevent and bad curses on the kids.

Later on as people of different cultures migrates to North America, many of their superstitions traveled with them. In our countries there was less open land in towns and cities and people compromised by placing teeth in gardens, planters, flower pots and things of the like. As time evolved, the fallen teeth were placed under children’s pillows and the parents switched the teeth for money usually after the children fell asleep.
Some folk cultures celebrated the loss of a child’s teeth by placing them in trees or by throwing them into the sun. Some cultures had the adults swallow their kid’s teeth or even burn them. Even the Vikings had a ritual called “tooth fee” whereby a small gift was given to a child when their first tooth appeared.

The curious children wanted and needed to know what happened to their teeth and because children love to hear stories, parents revealed the truth about the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy was thus born and children for centuries love the story and belief.
The bottom line is that the tooth fairy comes when a child has lost a tooth. This individual is most commonly believed to be a woman, small in stature and angelic. She comes during the night. The child is supposed to leave the tooth under their pillow for the tooth fairy to take. When she takes the tooth, she leaves money usually as a reimbursement. Some parents will place candy instead of money. The amount of money can be anywhere from ten cents to many dollars. I find that today, parents are getting more and more generous. Who would have thought that the tooth fairy rates would increase along with the consumer price index. Anyway, the tooth fairy then takes the teeth back to her tower for her own personal use. Who knows what she does with these teeth.

However we got to any of these conclusions or any of the ones that people believe in, the tooth fairy plays a small but important role in the lives of millions of children in the world, turning the loss of a baby tooth into an occasion (and profit making event).Losing teeth is something we have all been through and even I can still recall the great satisfaction and excitement of feeling that coin under my pillow in the morning.

These sentimental emotions and the joy on our children’s faces the morning after a tooth fairy visit will ensure that the story and tradition will be carried on for many generations. Beliefs of this kind, along with traditions and hobbies really enable us to have a more balanced life!

This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5



1275 Walker Rd. • P.O. Box 24008 • Windsor • Ontario • N8Y4X9