It seems crazy to tell your child—someone already prone to waking up in the night—that an intruder comes when they’re sleeping—within a hair’s breadth of their face—and sneaks under their pillow, all the while without them knowing. And yet, something that’d normally be terrifying is greeted with joy and jubilation. Why? Well, quite simply, it’s one of reasons why we all get up in the morning and go about our lives: money.
It’s capitalism at its finest: give a piece of who you are and you get money in return. The Tooth Fairy has been teaching that to children for years. But for how long has this money-changer been around? How long has she been infiltrating our homes, mining our children’s teeth for some unseen profit?
The Origins: the Middle Ages
We trace this bizarre exchange to that age where we get most of our bizarre traditions: the Middle Ages. In Scandinavia, the Norse Vikings used to have a “tooth fee.” When children lost their baby teeth, men would pay for their teeth, and often other children’s articles. Strung on a necklace and worn around the neck, these baby teeth would bring the Norse warriors good luck to match their berserk ferocity on the battlefield.
Medieval England’s tooth tradition is a shade darker and more mysterious. One belief instructed that baby teeth be buried in the ground, or in a garden, so that they would grow into permanent teeth. Another belief told that the teeth be burned to avoid having to spend eternity searching for them in the afterlife. Where this is found in the Bible is beyond me.
Yet another involves witches, and this may be where the concept of a fairy comes from. In a practice similar to Voodoo, baby teeth had to be disposed of swiftly because, if not, a witch could get hold of them. Whether it was lock of hair, a piece of flesh or a tooth, once in a witch’s possession, your life was forfeit—all power over yourself in her hands.
Tooth Fairy Goes Mainstream
The world advanced and such superstitions didn’t disappear, but weren’t as dark. In the early 20th century, the concept of a benevolent tooth fairy started to develop. The reason why is unknown, but at this time the under-the-pillow exchange became more common.
Esther Watkins Arnold gave the Tooth Fairy form with his children’s play aptly titled The Tooth Fairy in 1927. In 1949 another children’s story, “The Tooth Fairy” solidified her image further and with the 1950s, tons of literature poured out that made her a full-fledged phenomenon. Then, like everything sacred in the 1980s, she became commercialized, shipped and sold as dolls, special Tooth Fairy piggy banks, and anything marketable.
Thus the Tooth Fairy has come a long way from the murky origins in Medieval Europe. We can only hope her image remains, despite it being tarnished by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
Dr. Mike Mavrostomos is passionate and top-quality comprehensive care dentist located in Bedminster, NJ whose continual pursuit of education and state-of-the-art dentistry has led to his being recognized as one of New Jersey’s Top Dentists by the New Jersey Top-Docs committee. Check out our website, reviews, Facebook page Connect with us and learn!