The tooth fairy doesn’t get much attention in comparison to other childhood bearers of goodies. There’s no comparison to Santa or the Easter Bunny. Maybe because there’s a certain amount of pain and drama associated with the appearance of the tooth fairy. After all, you do have to lose a tooth for her to show up. Depending on whether it fell out on its own (which is generally not likely) or someone pulled it, there’s trauma before any reward comes along.
According to legend, the tooth fairy is the youngest of the fairy family, who enjoyed fluttering among children. At the first encounter of a child losing a tooth, she gave the child a fairy kiss to keep the fear of losing the tooth away.
The fact that you get money does help! The current going rate in the US is around $3.70 per tooth. In recent years, the tooth fairy has been a lot more generous than in past decades. When I was a child, I think I got a dollar per tooth. Economy does have some bearing on her generosity.
The reward for lost baby teeth has some twists in other parts of the world.
In the US and most English-speaking countries, once a child loses a tooth, the child puts it under his or her pillow and goes to sleep. The tooth fairy exchanges the tooth for money.
However, in Spain and several other Hispanic cultures, the tooth fairy is a mouse known as Raton Perez or Perez Mouse. You still put the tooth under your pillow, but you may get a gift instead of money. In Argentina, instead of putting the tooth under a pillow, you put into a glass of water. In theory, Perez Mouse is very tired from gathering teeth all night, so he drinks the water, takes the tooth and leaves a gift in the glass.
South African tooth fairies are similar to those in the US, except that they look for the lost baby teeth in slippers rather than under pillows.
In India, China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam there’s a different spin entirely. Teeth from the lower jaw are thrown onto the roof; from the upper jaw, on the floor. As the teeth are thrown, the child yells a wish.
In Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, baby teeth are also tossed to the sky. This practice is thought to date back to the 13th century.
In Mongolia, baby teeth are put into a piece of fat and fed to a dog. The intent is for the new teeth coming in to be as strong as a dog’s teeth. So, what if the family doesn’t have a dog? The tooth is buried near a tree so that the new tooth will also have strong roots like the tree.
In France, the tooth mouse is back. La Bonne Petite Souris looks for lost baby teeth under pillows and leaves either money or something sweet.
Just an observation—a tooth fairy versus a mouse is my first choice every time. Who wants a mouse looking for teeth in the middle of the night? Or, if one subscribes to the tooth fairy in Santa Clause II, the tooth fairy is a fairly burly guy with wings who longs for a better name—and gets renamed “The Molinator.” Okay, maybe the mouse is not too bad after all!