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A Brief History of the Tooth Fairy and Other Toothy Superstitions

little girl in tooth fairy costume in a park holding tooth-shaped bag
alinabuphoto/Shutterstock

Children learn that putting a lost tooth under their pillow at night will bring them some monetary compensation, but where did the idea come from? Why are teeth worth money, and what other superstitions revolve around those pearly whites?

The History of the Tooth Fairy

While the history of the tooth fairy may date back hundreds of years, it seems as though the reasoning behind the fairy tale is simply a way for parents to convince their children to allow them to pull out loose baby teeth. Baby teeth don’t always fall out easily or on their own, and sometimes they need a little tug. That tug can be painful, but it might be worth it for a dollar.

Before our modern tooth fairy became a regular visitor to most homes with small children, she had a history all over the world. As far back as the 13th century CE, tooth fairy-like beings have been written about and passed on from generation to generation, but they weren’t always pretty, glittery beings with wings. In Northern Europe during this time, a tooth fee was paid when a child lost their first tooth.

In Russia (and some other places), the tooth fairy was depicted as a mouse or rat. The idea was that by giving the child’s baby teeth to one of these rodents, the child’s adult teeth would grow in strong (like the rat’s).

How Much Do Teeth Pay?

You might not want to share this part with your children, but it seems as though some kids get as much as $4 each for their baby teeth. When I was a kid, a long time ago, a quarter was the average pay for baby teeth, so there has been some inflation in that department.

While a 2019 article from MarketWatch says the price for baby teeth has been declining, a few bucks a tooth still adds up when children have an average of twenty baby teeth. How much is left will depend on how much a family can afford to leave for their kids as well.

Strange Superstitions About Lost Teeth

The tooth fairy isn’t the only toothy superstition in the world. Here are some interesting tooth-related superstitions from Recess:

  • In England during the middle ages, it was common for children to burn their baby teeth so that they would have a happy afterlife.
  • Even adult teeth were sometimes burned or buried in England, to keep witches from getting a hold of them and using them to control you.
  • The English folks would sometimes bury kid’s teeth around the house to magically help adult, permanent teeth to take their place in the child’s mouth.
  • Vikings believed that children were lucky, so their teeth were purchased to bring good luck (they often wore them as necklaces).

What Does the Tooth Fairy Look Like?

The face of the tooth fairy is up to parents, children, and the media. Childhood imagination runs wild, but it’s often influenced by what they see in books and on the television screen. For the most part, the tooth fairy is a cute and fun little fairy, but knowing that some places give baby teeth to rats adds a little fear to the equation.

The tooth fairy in pop culture has given us many different views of the tooth collector. Some of the more popular tooth fairies in pop culture include:

Rise of the Guardians

If you’re looking for the cutesy tooth fairy of children’s imaginations, you’ll want to look to the tooth fairy in the animated film Rise of the Guardians. She’s a pixie-like being that almost looks like a hummingbird. You get that Tinkerbell feeling, and you know that this cute creature couldn’t possibly give your kids nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy

Hollywood has a habit of messing with the way we see things, and the movie The Tooth Fairy really gave a new look to this spritely character. This is a live-action film with a fairy you’d never expect—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. You still get a non-frightening tooth fairy and a movie that kids will love.

Darkness Falls

For a far more frightening twist on the tooth fairy, Darkness Falls re-imagines the once happy story of the tooth collecting fairy and turns her into an evil witch-like being who kills instead of leaving cash. This is definitely not a film to share with the kids.

Not all parents share the mythical story of the tooth fairy with their children. Much like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it’s up to parents to decide which fictional characters they want to share as reality with their children until their old enough to learn that some childhood heroes are simply fiction.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »