We know where most traditions started: There are professors in Europe who specialize in the history of Santa Claus (no, we didn’t make that up) and the Brothers Grimm were studying the origins of the Easter Bunny almost 200 years ago. But the poorly recorded history of the Tooth Fairy is an exception to the rule. Scholars aren’t quite sure where the tooth fairy tradition started and have come up with a number of theories to help explain her muddled backstory.
To help you celebrate National Tooth Fairy Day on February 28th, we’re here to relay some of those origins. We also provide a few fun facts about the Tooth Fairy in modern times - for example, thanks to an annual survey conducted by Delta Dental (a Grove Dental Group insurance partner) we know that kids today receive a lot more for a lost tooth than the quarter that was left under your pillow!
In the Beginning…
There are several ancient traditions across Northern Europe that describe the tand-fé, or the “tooth fee”, which was paid to children who lost a tooth. Others describe superstitions connected to lost teeth that were meant to scare children into obedience - a practice which sounds a lot cheaper for parents than a tooth fee. For example, during the Middle Ages, children were told to burn their newly lost baby teeth or risk an eternity in the afterlife searching for them. (We can’t wait for that Disney movie).
By the 19th century, the threads of these divergent traditions were tied together. After they lost teeth, Italian and French children were told that a magical fairy had left gifts for them while they slept. At about the same time, Tooth Fairies in England would leave “fairy coins” for sleeping peasant girls to save for when they, in turn, left coins behind for their children. Elsewhere in Europe, adults would pay children for lost teeth which were considered good luck charms.
Your (Great-)Grandparents’ Tooth Fairy
The modern history of the Tooth Fairy can be traced back to a 1908 “Household Hints” piece in the Chicago Daily Tribune by Lillian Brown:
“Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the Tooth Fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the Tooth Fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions.”
So on one hand our grandparents had it pretty nice, waking up with an actual gift in the morning. On the other other, it was a gift from the 5 cent counter - which honestly doesn’t sound all that great.
Some slightly less traumatizing Tooth Fairy-related events from recent history include:
- 1949: Collier’s magazine publishes a story about the Tooth Fairy
- 1950: The Fairy Godmother from Disney’s Cinderella becomes a popular character
- 1953: Disney’s Peter Pan is released featuring a beloved Tinkerbell
- 1979: The Tooth Fairy is cited in The World Book Encyclopedia for the first time
- 2010: Dwayne Johnson AKA “The Rock” stars in The Tooth Fairy (Actually, watching this movie was pretty traumatizing)
Today’s Parents Give How Much?!
Thanks to the folks at Delta Dental, we now have an annual Original Tooth Fairy Poll and website to track just how much the Tooth Fairy is spoiling our kids. According to the latest results released just last week, the average cash gift in 2018 amounted to $3.70 for a lost tooth. This includes parents in PA who gave an average of $3.75, down a whopping 60 cents from 2017. If that still sounds like a lot, don’t worry; just root for the stock market to hit record highs in 2019. That’s because the researchers at Delta Dental found a strong correlation between stock returns and the amount kids receive from the Tooth Fairy, as illustrated below:
If you actually want to use your child’s lost tooth as an opportunity to promote good dental health (a position supported by 100% of the dentists and dental hygienists here at Grove Dental Group), note that the survey also found that oral health related gifts from the Tooth Fairy are on the rise. Nearly 50% of kids also found a toothbrush, toothpaste, or floss under the pillow. Now that’s a new Tooth Fairy tradition we can stand behind. For more tips about promoting good oral health with your children, subscribe to our newsletter - and don’t forget to have the Tooth Fairy schedule an appointment for your little one!