Origins of the tooth fairy story

Did you all remember to celebrate national tooth fairy day? Well, it was February 28. Mark your calendars for next year.

Most kids grow up hearing the tale of the fairy who retrieves teeth from under a pillow and replaces it with small sums of money. But how did this myth begin?

Surprisingly, this is a much younger myth than most of us think.

The tooth fairy herself is quite young, she’s less than a century old. But, the idea of exchanging teeth for money or small gifts and the idea that baby teeth are special are much older.

Even before the Middle Ages in Europe, there was a belief that baby teeth, also known as milk teeth, must be disposed of properly once lost. During this time, Europeans believed that a witch could place a curse on you by using one of your baby teeth. Some methods of disposal of baby teeth were swallowing, burying, burning or feeding to rodents. All these methods meant that the witch could not find the teeth in order to place a curse on you.

Rats and other rodents feature prevalently in tooth myths from around the world. This might be due to the belief that rodents had strong, healthy teeth that were always regenerating and growing. Many cultures believed that if the rat ate your baby tooth, you would grow up to have strong, healthy teeth like the rat.

Money comes into play in the tooth myths in the Middle Ages in Scandinavia. Vikings believed that it was good luck to wear baby teeth on a necklace into battle. They often paid children for the privilege of having their teeth for their battle necklaces. This custom became known as tand-fé or tooth fee.

Fun Twist on the Tooth Fairy

Though the loss of baby teeth has seemingly always been important, we still haven’t quite reached the dawn of the age of the tooth fairy. It is suspected that the tooth fairy was inspired by a story written by French author Madame d’Aulnoy in 1697 called La Bonne Petite Souris or the Little Good Mouse. The story is about a tough little mouse who turns into a fairy, hides under the evil king’s pillow and knocks out all of his teeth. This fairy tale may be what inspired our modern tale of the tooth fairy.

The first reference to a tooth fairy is found in a play written by American Esther Watkins Arnold in 1927. This short play, just 8 pages long, was intended for children. In 1949, a book titled The Tooth Fairy was released. It’s believed that the tooth fairy, an American creation, is an amalgamation of two tales, that of the good fairy and that of the rat that sneaks under the pillow to take teeth.

Though young in years, the story of the tooth fairy has become widespread in the United States. The tooth fairy plays an important role in many children’s lives making what could be considered a painful or traumatic experience more fun.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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