Fairy, Fairy, Quite Contrary - A History of the Tooth Fairy

Fairy, Fairy, Quite Contrary - A History of the Tooth Fairy
Posted on 07/20/2016
Fairy, Fairy, Quite Contrary - A History of the Tooth Fairy

fairyMany children are familiar with the legend of the “Tooth Fairy.” However, what fewer are familiar with is the changing international reach of the story. 

Unlike with Santa Claus, and many other famous enchanted figures, the Tooth Fairy has a much less finite image across the world. This is due to the fact that she varies in form as much as she does in specific purpose depending on your country of origin. 

There isn’t even a consensus that she is “she.” According to a 1984 study by famed children’s writer Rosemary Wells, only 74% of those surveyed in the U.S. believe that the Tooth Fairy is female. Although for the purpose of this blog, and in keeping with the accepted American consensus for the legend, we will stick with that pronoun for now.

Like the gender of the Tooth Fairy, across the world traditions revolving around her lore are just as diversely inconsistent, particularly in regards to the fairy’s species. Throughout history the Tooth Fairy has been depicted as everything from a flying ballerina to a dragon.

In many Spanish and Hispanic American cultures, for example, the Tooth Fairy is a character known as Ratoncito Pérez (or "Pérez Mouse"). Since the 1800’s, children in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, and Uruguay have placed teeth under their pillows so that Ratoncito Pérez will take the teeth and leave a gift in return. Ratoncito Pérez is known in other Hispanic countries by different names. For instance, he is known in several regions as Ratón de los Dientes" (“The Tooth Mouse”). 

Other lost tooth traditions involving a type of “Fairy Rat” can be found in Asian and European countries where the customs on what to physically do with lost teeth also vary. In Japan, for example, children are taught to throw fallen teeth onto the roof or into the space beneath the floorboards while shouting a request that the tooth be replaced with a mouse tooth, (as mice teeth continue to grow throughout the creatures’ entire lives).

In retrospect, the Tooth Fairy is one of the mystical creatures with the most unrefined image and set of customs. But, overall, in modern culture she remains a universal symbol for quirky magic, growing up, and (if you’re a kid) the possibility of free cash.