For many Americans, losing your baby teeth was a treat. Not only did relinquishing that molar or incisor signify the passage of time, another goal post for entering into your pre-teen years, but it also meant a tiny treat placed under your pillow in the morning. After leaving your tooth under your pillow, you’d get up in the morning to find a shiny new quarter, dollar, or maybe even a candy bar.
As an adult you know there’s no such thing as the tooth fairy — she was an invention of your parents used to add some excitement to an otherwise strange and scary dental experience that all children go through. But besides being simply a coping mechanism, the tooth fairy actually has a rich history, the myth going back much further than you might expect.
The Tooth Fairy Has a Long History
Your parents certainly didn’t invent the tooth fairy, and neither did their parents. The myth goes back way further than most people think. In fact, the origins of the tooth fairy can be traced back to the Eddas, a pair of Icelandic writings that date back to the thirteenth century, but cite material that goes back much further.
In the Eddas, there is a description of the tand-fé, which translates to “tooth fee.” This was a payment made to a child when they lost their first tooth. In fact, there is a legend that Vikings valued children’s teeth highly, even purchasing them from children in order to wear them on necklaces when they went into battle as good luck charms.
There was plenty of superstition surrounding children’s teeth in other areas of the world, leading to all kinds of strange practices and rituals featuring lost baby teeth. In England during the Middle Ages, some families would burn baby teeth in an attempt to improve the child’s eventual experience in the afterlife. There was also a belief during medieval times, when fear of witches was rampant, that a witch would gain total power over you if she obtained one of your teeth.
The Modern Tooth Fairy
Of course, the tooth fairy myth today has evolved, and is now a fun, harmless tradition that is completely divorced from its superstitious roots. Some kids receive money for their teeth, while others may receive small toys or gifts. While a dime or a quarter used to be the going rate for a fresh baby tooth, a study by Visa in 2013 showed that the average American receives $3.70 for a single tooth — talk about inflation!
While the tooth fairy doesn’t have much deep meaning these days, it’s still a ritual that is strongly tied to coming of age — not just the loss of the teeth themselves, but also the belief in the fantastical figure. Believe in the tooth fairy for too long and you may garner mockery from friends and peers, but ruin the myth for others, and you could suffer the wrath of parents and teachers for being a killjoy.
Even though the tooth fairy isn’t real, you still need someone looking out for your teeth, and that’s where your dentist comes into play. The American Dental Association suggest visiting your dentist for a check-up and cleaning every six months. This will help your clear bacteria-holding tartar from your teeth, while ensuring that any major oral-health complications receive the treatment they need.