Welcoming the Tooth Fairy

The loss of baby teeth is a rite of passage.

It seems like just days ago when I waited patiently for my son’s first little biters to erupt in his infant mouth. Those days somehow melted magically into years and before I knew it, I could hear the Tooth Fairy fluttering about.

Generally, children lose their first tooth between the ages of four and seven, says paediatric dentist Dr. Jill Jenkins. Teeth fall out in the order in which they first came in.

Should you yank a loose tooth? “Usually, the best policy is to let it come out on its own,” says Jenkins. “If the other tooth is coming in, parents can have their child suck on a popsicle to numb the gums and eat pizza crust, carrots or apples. If a tooth is wiggly and you’re not seeing the new tooth, letting your child work through it on his own is usually the easiest way and the least stressful way to go about it.” (Be sure to consult your child’s dentist if you have any concerns.)

That first loose tooth can cause anxiety for some children. But most often, anxiety turns to excitement as children anticipate the reward the Tooth Fairy leaves behind.

Enter the Tooth Fairy

While the exact origin of the enigmatic Tooth Fairy is steeped in mystery, historically the loss of baby teeth is an important rite of passage.

The earliest known written records regarding baby teeth date from northern Europe and describe a tann-fe, or tooth fee, in which money was paid for a baby tooth. In the Middle Ages, Europeans, fearing witches could curse their children if they acquired their baby teeth, buried the teeth in the ground. The Vikings wore baby teeth as jewellery, considering them good luck talismans in battle. Other cultures fed the teeth to animals believing the child’s adult tooth would resemble the animal’s powerful, strong teeth.

Today, countries all over the world continue to mark the loss of baby teeth with various customs. In Spain, France, Italy and Mexico, for example, the Tooth Fairy appears as a small white mouse or rat, symbolic because rodents have strong teeth that never stop growing. In Sweden, the baby tooth is placed in a glass of water where it is mysteriously replaced overnight with coins. In much of the 
Middle East it is customary for baby teeth to be thrown towards the sun as an offering to Allah.

The Tooth Fairy, as many of us know her, appeared in North America in the early 1900s.

Cups, pillows, and pockets

The Tooth Fairy isn’t picky about how she collects baby teeth. Lori Poland grew up placing her baby teeth in a clear glass of water on her nightstand. She says she loved fishing a wet $2 bill out of the cup the next morning, setting it out to dry and storing it in her memory box.

Today, many parents just let their child place the tooth unadorned under their pillow. Others use a Ziplock bag, envelope or a Tooth Fairy pillow or pouch, which you can purchase or make yourself.

Cathy Green, mom of three, says the Tooth Fairy enters her home through a small ceramic door that sits outside the kids’ bedrooms. After collecting the tooth from a small box under the child’s pillow, the Tooth Fairy replaces the tooth with her reward and leaves the box next to the tiny door.

In many Canadian homes, the Tooth Fairy rewards a child with a loonie or a toonie. Mom Beth Foster reports that the Tooth Fairy typically pays $1 per tooth at her home but her lucky daughter Logan, 6, discovered a $5 payout under her pillow for her fifth tooth. But “I’ve been assured the good old fairy does not leave $10 for the 10th tooth,” says Foster.

Where do teeth go?

Legend says that the Tooth Fairy tosses the teeth up to the sky and they become stars. Logan Foster has other ideas. “The fairy uses her wand to shrink the teeth to a very small size so she can carry them in a bag with her from house to house,” says Foster. “Then she takes the teeth to Santa so he can use them to make toys.”

Whatever the Tooth Fairy does with them, each tooth lost means that adulthood gains another foothold on our kids. It’s no wonder that through the ages we’ve found ways to mark this stage in our kids’ lives, which seems as fleeting as the Tooth Fairy herself.

Author: Christa Melnyk Hines

Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance writer and the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life.

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