The tooth fairy is one of those traditions we’ve all grown accustomed to, but where did the tooth fairy come from? Well depending on what century is asking, the answer might be a story about a mouse, a bird, or a small woman in a pink dress.

The tooth fairy custom we all know and practice today is a North American tradition, but similar practices took place in countries with roots much older than the U.S. In fact, the idea of “fairy coins” transpired from a British tradition that actually didn’t even involve teeth at all.

The coins were left for maids as they slept, which they believed came from fairies. Although this is the earliest trace of fairy-related coins, the practice of baby teeth rituals dates back much farther than early-European history.

North America’s Tooth Fairy

The tooth fairy tradition didn’t take off in the U.S. until the mid-20th century. In fact, the idea was officially publicized in a 1949 Collier’s Weekly article. Which might sound odd to some of us older generations who remember growing up with a special tooth fairy pillow and practicing the seemingly-old tradition. But believe it or not, the tooth fairy is a somewhat modern custom.

Folklorist Tad Tuleja believes this is due to the three following reasons. To start, it wasn’t until after the dust settled from the Great Depression and World War 2 that parents had any disposable income. Pre-WWII families would have been crazy to give their last pennies away to the children for traditions-sake.

When money was no longer the American family’s hardest-pressing issue, children received a lot more attention. The childhood phase – infant to young-adult – was much more appreciated, and as a result, more tales and traditions like the tooth fairy came about.

According to Tuleja, another contributing factor was how early film and media in the U.S. portrayed mythical creatures as friendly and trustworthy. A good example of this influence is seen in early Disney films like Snow White and Pinocchio.

Tooth Fairy Ideas

Of course, after awhile, your kids will start to wonder if the tooth fairy is real or not. Until then, it’s up to you start building your own traditions with fun tooth fairy ideas.

Some parents sprinkle glitter on the cash they leave under their child’s pillow or leave other trails of “tooth fairy dust”. Here are some creative tooth fairy ideas you can try for the first tooth to remind your child that clean teeth pay off:
Tooth fairy thank you note: Leave a note for your child congratulating them for losing their first tooth. Also, note how clean teeth are appreciated, and to keep up the good work brushing and flossing.
First tooth certificate: Print out a certificate signed by the tooth fairy that praises your child for losing tooth number one. Again, you’ll want to say thanks for how clean the tooth was, and admire any daily brushing and flossing routines.
Tooth receipt: Leave a receipt of transaction noting a bonus for the first tooth (if given) and include a brief thank you for tooth cleanliness.

At first, it may sound silly to reward children for a human process that happens naturally. Tuleja shed some light on the lesson taught from this tradition in a comparison between Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

“Santa Claus’s promise is pre-monetary; goodness gets you Barbies or a Rambo doll,” Tuleja writes. “The tooth fairy’s promise is more modern; anything, even your own body, can be turned into gold. That, in its final reductive wisdom, is precisely the vaunted magic of free enterprise.”


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