So who is this mythical character that looks for lost baby teeth under children’s pillows and then leaves money or a gift while taking the tooth away with her? The tooth fairy of today's popular culture came into existence as recently as the early 1900’s. She gained most of her popularity in the span of time between the 1950's and today.
In fact, she may have originally been a mouse. Ratoncito Pérez is a popular figure from Spanish and Hispanic cultures who performs the same role as the tooth fairy but is a mouse. In Italy, it is a tooth mouse as well. An influential story in the tooth fairy’s history is a French fairy tale from the 17th century," La Bonne Petite Souris” (" The Good Little Mouse”). In the story the fairy turns into a mouse which brings the two concepts together. In the United States, the first children’s story on record about the tooth fairy is Lee Rogow's "The Tooth Fairy" in 1949.
While the tooth fairy is young by history’s standards, the rituals around losing baby teeth are far older and diverse. In the middle ages, people believed that witches could gain power over you by taking something that belonged to you. This might be a strand of hair, a piece of clothing, or a tooth. Parents told their children to bury their lost teeth in the ground or burn them in fire to protect them from witches. Vikings had a “tooth fee” which was money given to the child when they lost a tooth. Vikings were also known to use the teeth in jewelry they wore to protect them in battle. Interestingly, in Asian countries, the ritual was to throw a tooth from the lower jaw on the roof and place a tooth from the upper jaw beneath the floor. It was believed that these acts would encourage the new tooth to grow in straight and strong.
In published children’s stories and artwork the tooth fairy's appearance takes on many diverse forms. Some publications show the fairy as a male, while others a female or a child. Other depictions are a bunny, dragon, pixie, and ballerina. Children do not seem to mind the different variations of the tooth fairy. Perhaps it is because she is not as popular as some childhood characters like Santa Claus who we immediately visualize as a man in a red suit, with a white beard, and a jolly tummy.
Wherever she came from, I think the tooth fairy is here to stay. She provides an important purpose by helping children through one transition of growing up. The tooth fairy eases the worries that arise from losing a tooth by focusing on the prize that they will receive in its place.