Tooth Fairy Tales around the World
The Tooth Fairy is one of the most popular childhood traditions. As baby teeth fall out, children place them under their pillow, and the Tooth Fairy brings them a reward as they sleep.
Most cultures have rituals to celebrate the loss of baby teeth. The Tooth Fairy draws on inspiration from a few different traditions in several English-speaking countries, from Australia, England, New Zealand and Canada, as well as Finland and Denmark. The Danish basically use the same tradition, only the Tooth Fairy is known as “Tandfeen” and leaves money behind.
The Tooth Fairy traces back to European folklore. The tooth-burying tradition came from a superstition that if a witch found the tooth they could curse and control the child. Burying the tooth alleviated those fears, turning an old superstition into a whimsical tradition. Burying the tooth in the garden evolved as cities grew and teeth were buried in pots and finally under pillows.
The tradition of leaving money under pillows started in the U.S. symbolic of shedding a part of childhood with each tooth lost. While some cultures and families offer gifts in place of a lost tooth, cash is often used, representing a stepping stone to increasing responsibility.
Spain and Spanish Speaking Countries
In Spanish-speaking countries such as Spain, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia the Tooth Fairy is a rodent. Ratocinto Perez, who also goes by El Raton de Los Dientes, Raton Perez and Perez Mouse, collects baby teeth from sleeping children and leaves a gift or money behind.
In Argentina, children put the tooth in a glass of water before bedtime for Perez, the thirsty mouse drinks the water, takes the tooth and leaves a small gift or money in the glass.
The Spanish story dates to the 1890s. Prince Alfonso XII was born after his father, the king, died, and his mother, Queen Maria Christina, was regent until Alfonso turned 16 and was eligible to assume the crown. When Alfonso began losing his teeth, he was afraid, and his mother turned toward Father Luis Coloma, a popular writer at that time.
Coloma created the tale of the Raton Perez, a small mouse who visited a sickly prince, carrying a red satchel for collecting lost teeth and leaving a small amount of money in their place. The young prince caught Perez one night, and the mouse took him around to visit other children as they sleep. The tale had a moral bent to it, as the mouse showed the prince how the other half lives, taking him to a mouse home in a repurposed biscuit box, adding in a moral about helping the poor into the end of the tale.
In France, as well as Belgium, Morocco and Switzerland, children leave their teeth under the pillow for La Petite Souris, or the Little Mouse, who takes teeth and leaves a coin or a bill behind to replace the tooth.
No one is quite sure where the myth originated, though it is thought to come from a 17th century tale known as “The Good Little Mouse.” In this version of the story, a fairy is turned into a mouse in order to help a queen defeat an evil king. The teeth come into play when the mouse hides under the king’s pillow at night, stealing all his teeth as he sleeps.
Many Italian children get a hybrid version of tradition, often believing in two major icons, a Tooth Fairy and a benevolent mouse.
Children in South Africa place their lost teeth inside of a in hopes that a mouse will replace the tooth with money or a gift.
Children in El Salvador place teeth under their pillow and wait for a rabbit, to come and collect the lost tooth.
Certain native tribes in Alaska feed baby teeth to an animal, such as a dog, asking the creature to bring them a new tooth in place of the old one.
In Brazil, children toss the lost tooth outside, hoping a bird will pick it up. The bird will not accept dirty teeth or leave a gift if a tooth looks dirty, emphasizing good brushing habits for little ones. If the tooth is clean, the bird leaves behind a small prize or money in place of a satisfactory tooth.
In Japan teeth are thrown, but they where they go depends on the type of tooth. Bottom teeth are thrown to the roof, while the upper teeth go into the ground, mimicking the trajectory that ideal tooth growth takes, straight and strong.
In Turkey, children are taught their baby teeth can influence their future. For example, if the tooth is buried near a doctor’s office, the child may grow up to be a doctor. If the tooth is buried in a field the child may grow up to be a baseball player or a soccer star. Luckily, children lose a lot of teeth, so they can change their mind a few times.
In the Ukraine, children seek out the darkest corner in their house, wrap a tooth in a tissue or cloth, and leave it in the dark. The child whispers something along the lines of, “Take my old tooth and bring me a new one,” leaving the tooth in the same place until the new one grows in.
In Greece, children toss their teeth onto a rooftop, making a wish that the new tooth will grow in strong and healthy.
In the Dominican Republic, kids also partake in throwing their teeth on the roof, hoping a mouse will bring them new teeth in their place.
In Nigeria, children play a game when they lose a tooth. Boys find eight stones and clasp them tightly in their fist, along with the tooth in question. Girls do the same but with six stones instead of eight. The kids close their eyes, count to a number equal to the stones in their hand, and say, “I want my tooth back!” The children then toss their fist into the air and run away.
In Lithuania many kids hang onto their teeth, keeping them in a special box, while others may make them into a necklace or other keepsake. Other children believe in a tooth mouse and toss their lost teeth behind a stove, in the hope of getting a new tooth as strong as iron.
Kids in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and more throw their teeth up in the air toward the sun, asking the sun to send them strong and straight adult teeth in return for their gift.
In Korea, children also throw their baby teeth to the roof, hoping a blackbird will bring them a new tooth and sing a song like this: “My old tooth I give to you, bring me a new tooth.”
In Pakistan, children wrap their lost teeth in a cloth and throw them in the river for good luck.