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The Tooth Fairy and all its forms

Back in 2010, 20th Century Fox put out a fun movie called “Tooth Fairy” in which Dwayne Johnson (you may know him better as The Rock) plays a minor league hockey player who becomes a tooth fairy. It’s a fun movie, made even better by the casting of Julie Andrews – of Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music – as Lily, the head tooth fairy. You really couldn’t have cast that any better.

In this re-imagining of the classic children’s fable, the tooth fairy is actually a team of tooth fairies that circle the globe collecting baby teeth and leaving rewards. It certainly makes more sense than one fairy for all the planet’s children (not that the tooth fairy needs to make sense), but that’s not to say that moms and dads can’t sell the idea of a single tooth fairy. Of course, they can. In fact, some of the most outlandish stories have been sold to kids at this all-too-traumatic time in their lives when their little teeth are being pushed aside by their big-boy and big-girl chompers.

Tooth Fairy Data

In 1984, children’s author Rosemary Wells (Max & Ruby, Noisy Nora) decided to find out what North American children really thought of the tooth fairy. She found that 74% believed the tooth fairy to be female, 12% said the tooth fairy was neither male nor female and 8% thought the tooth fairy could be either male or female. Of the 74% who saw a female, an overwhelming majority described her as that classic Tinkerbell fairy, while most of those who saw the tooth fairy as male see him as non-human. And that’s interesting because a tooth fairy tour around the world reveals a number of creatures.

International Tooth Fairies

In Spanish and Hispanic cultures, the tooth fairy is known as Ratoncito Pérez (or Pérez Mouse), who crawls under pillows and exchanges money for teeth. The mouse myth also exists in Italy where he’s called Topolino. In France and Belgium, the mouse is female and named la petite souris (the little mouse). In Spain, the tooth fairy is a lady named Mari Teilatukoa (Mary from the roof) who catches teeth thrown up in the air.

The “toss the teeth up in the air” theme is also prevalent in Asia – specifically in India, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. But there’s a twist to this custom: it’s only the bottom teeth that get chucked. Top teeth are placed in crawl spaces underneath the floor. The Japanese add an action to the custom: they throw bottom teeth straight up in the air and top teeth straight down to help the adult teeth come in straight. Middle Eastern countries have also embraced the tooth toss-up, but in those countries, it’s an offering to Allah.

The one thing to remember

While it’s a seemingly innocuous construct and can be used to promote healthy oral care habits (“the tooth fairy pays more for healthy teeth, so brush every day”), the tooth fairy can lead to problems.

One of our patients told us about her oldest daughter who essentially extorted her parents by threatening to tell her little sister that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist.

“On the one hand, I was super upset,” said our patient. “On the other hand, I was kind of impressed.”

Yeah, us too.

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