Losing baby teeth can be a bit traumatic for children. After all, body parts falling off is generally not a good thing. If the tooth isn’t loose enough, it can be a little painful, and can cause some minor bleeding. Over the centuries, parents have developed traditions and customs to excite children about the event and help ease their worries. The Tooth Fairy is a well-known character in most English-speaking countries, but she doesn’t visit children worldwide. Many countries have their own unique traditions, that any parent can utilise to make this a special, exciting time instead of something to dread.
*Note: there is great variety among customs in different countries, and often also within areas. If you don’t recognise a tradition from your country, or know of additional ones, please let us know!
The Tooth Fairy
In England, the United States, Canada, and many other countries, parents encourage their children to place the lost tooth underneath their pillow. The Tooth Fairy comes during the night and buys the tooth by swapping it for a little money, usually a coin or a few coins. In Tooth Fairyland, the fairies use the teeth to build all sorts of things.
The Tooth Fairy is the mythological character Brits are most familiar with. The modern origins of this benevolent bedtime visitor date back to the book, “The Tooth Fairy,” published in 1949 by Lee Rogow. However, the concept of a tooth-collecting character has been around for centuries. This individual is depicted as a fairy not only in England, but often in America, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as well.
While English children typically expect money, this fairy may leave all manner of gifts. Some French children receive small toys.
The Tooth Mouse
In many cultures, the fairy is actually a mouse, and in some cases a fairy mouse. Mexican children leave their teeth under their pillows for Raton Perez, who swaps them for coins. Similarly, children in Spain present their teeth for Ratoncito Perez or Raton de los Dientes, the rat of teeth. Guatemala and other Spanish-speaking cultures hold similar traditions.
In France, the tooth mouse is called La Petite Souris, or the little mouse. Instead of coins, he swaps toys or small gifts for teeth. The Scottish White Fairy Mouse also buys teeth for coins.
The tooth mouse predates the tooth fairy by several centuries. A 17th century French story titled “La Bonne Petite Souris” carries the likely origins of this mythological character. In this story, translated as “The Good Little Mouse,” a fairy takes on the form of a mouse to defeat an evil king. The mouse hides under his pillow when he goes to bed and knocks out his teeth while he’s sleeping.
This story gradually morphed over the ages to give birth to the idea of a sweet money-bearing mouse that will creep in overnight to replace lost teeth with a coin. The tooth mouse is popular in Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Venezuela, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Morocco, Algeria, and Luxembourg.
Many children throw their teeth as a symbolic way of encouraging new healthy teeth to grow. This tradition takes many different forms. Japanese children throw lower teeth straight up into the air and upper teeth straight down to the ground. The trajectory of the tooth represents how the children want their teeth to grow – straight and even.
In Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine, children throw their lost teeth toward the sun. In this way, they’re asking the sun to send them better teeth the next time around.
Children in the Dominican Republic, Botswana and Ethiopia throw their teeth on the roof regardless of whether they’re from the top of bottom. These children hope that a mouse will come and take their teeth from the roof, replacing them with the strong teeth of a rodent.
Children in Austria often throw their teeth over or under their houses, but may also make a key ring out of the lost tooth. Nigerian children throw their teeth in the attic, while reciting an incarnation for the mice not to eat their tooth, believing that if a mouse eats the tooth, the new one won’t grow in.
Placing Teeth in Special Locations
Children in parts of Europe have been know to bury their lost teeth in the ground, believing that the act causes the permanent tooth to come in. In the Ukraine, children wrap their lost teeth in a piece of tissue and put it in a corner away from the light, while reciting, “Take my old tooth and leave me a new one!”
Mice enter the picture again in India, Korea, and Vietnam where children place their lower teeth on the roof and upper teeth beneath the floorboards. This tradition is said to encourage the new teeth to grow continuously, as mice teeth do.
In China, upper teeth are placed at the foot of the bed and lower teeth go on the roof. These children believe that the careful placement of their lost teeth will help the new ones come in faster.
Adapting Worldwide Traditions Into Your Family’s Culture
Irrespective of which tradition you grew up with, it could be educational as well as entertaining to add a new tradition to your family’s customs. Talk about other children’s customs around the world to bring some culture and background to the ordinary Tooth Fairy routine. If you’re interested in the Spanish Raton Perez, there is a complete line of children’s books about him.
Losing a baby tooth can be a strange experience for a young child, one that for many is a little scary. Most children love a good story however – so try to see if you can alleviate their worries by telling them about any of the traditions above. A playful approach to changes in the child’s life almost always helps them to get through it more easily.