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The tooth fairy is a fantasy figure of early childhood. The folklore states that when a child loses a baby tooth, if he or she places it beneath the bed pillow, the tooth fairy will visit while the child sleeps, replacing the lost tooth with a small payment.
The tradition of leaving a tooth under a pillow for the tooth fairy to collect is practiced in various countries in the Anglosphere. For an example of how some families in the United States observe tooth fairy customs, see this transcript of an episode of the radio show, This American Life.
In early Europe, it was a tradition to bury baby teeth that fell out. When a child's sixth tooth falls out, it is a custom for parents to slip a gift or money from the tooth fairy under the child's pillow, but to leave the tooth as a reward. Some parents also leave trails of glitter on the floor, representing fairy dust.
In northern Europe, there was also a tradition of tann-fé or tooth fee, which was paid when a child lost their first tooth. This tradition is recorded in writings as early as the Eddas, which are the earliest written record of Norse and Northern European traditions.
The reward left varies by country, the family's economic status, amounts the child's peers report receiving and other factors. A 2011 study found that American children receive $2.60 per tooth on average.
Unlike Santa Claus and, to a lesser extent, the Easter Bunny, there are few details of the tooth fairy's appearance that are consistent in various versions of the myth. A 1984 study conducted by Rosemary Wells revealed that most, 74 percent of those surveyed, believed the tooth fairy to be female, while 12 percent believed the tooth fairy to be neither male nor female and 8 percent believed the tooth fairy could be either male or female. When asked about her findings regarding the tooth fairy's appearance, Wells explained - "You've got your basic Tinkerbell-type tooth fairy with the wings, wand, a little older and whatnot. Then you have some people who think of the tooth fairy as a man, or a bunny rabbit or a mouse." One review of published children's books and popular artwork found the tooth fairy to also be depicted as a child with wings, a pixie, a dragon, a blue mother-figure, a flying ballerina, two little old men, a dental hygenist, a potbellied flying man smoking a cigar, a bat, a bear and others. Unlike the well-established imagining of Santa Claus, differences in renderings of the tooth fairy are not as upsetting to children.
Belief in the tooth fairy is viewed in two very different ways. On the one hand, children believing is seen as part of the trusting nature of childhood. Conversely, belief in the tooth fairy is frequently used to label adults as being too trusting and ready to believe anything.
While parents are often unsure of themselves when promoting the fiction of the tooth fairy, the majority of children report positive outcomes. Upon learning the tooth fairy is not real, 75% of children reported liking the custom; 20% were neutral and 3% were not in favor and said they did not intend to continue the practice when they became parents.
Parents tend to view the myth as providing comfort for children in the loss of their tooth. Research finds that belief in the tooth fairy may provide such comfort to a child experiencing fear or pain resulting from the loss of a tooth. Mothers especially seem to value a child's belief as a sign that their "baby" is still a child and is not "growing up too soon". By encouraging belief in a fictional character, parents allow themselves to be comforted that their child still believes in fantasy and is not yet "grown up".
Author Vicki Lansky advises parents to tell their children early that the tooth fairy pays a whole lot more for a perfect tooth than for a decayed one. According to Lansky, some families leave a note with the payment, praising the child for good dental habits.
The Ratoncito Pérez (or Ratón Pérez, "Pérez Mouse" in English)) is a figure popular in Spanish and Hispanic American cultures, similar to the tooth fairy, originating in Madrid in 1894. As is traditional in some English-speaking countries, when a child loses a tooth it is customary for him or her to place it under the pillow, so that Ratoncito Pérez will exchange it for a gift. The tradition is almost universal in Spanish cultures, but takes different forms in different areas. He is known as "Ratoncito Pérez" in Spanish speaking countries, with the exception of some regions of Mexico, Peru and Chile, where he is called "el Ratón de los Dientes" (The Tooth Mouse), and in Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Colombia, he is known simply as "El Ratón Pérez". The Ratoncito Pérez was used by Colgate marketing in Venezuela and Spain. In Italy, the tooth fairy is also often replaced by a small mouse. In France and in French-speaking Belgium, this character is called la petite souris ("the little mouse"). From parts of Lowland Scotland comes a tradition similar to the fairy mouse: a white fairy rat who purchases children's teeth with coins.
In some Asian countries, such as India, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, when a child loses a tooth, it is customary for him or her to throw it onto the roof if it came from the lower jaw, or into the space beneath the floor if it came from the upper jaw. While doing this, the child shouts a request for the tooth to be replaced with the tooth of a mouse. This tradition is based on the fact that the teeth of mice grow for their entire lives, a characteristic of all rodents.
In Japan, a different variation calls for lost upper teeth to be thrown straight down to the ground and lower teeth straight up into the air; the idea is that incoming teeth will grow in straight.
In Middle Eastern countries (including Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and Sudan), there is a tradition of throwing a baby tooth up into the sky to the sun or to Allah. This tradition may originate in a pre-Islamic offering, and dates back to at least the 13th century. It is also mentioned by Izz bin Hibat Allah Al Hadid in the 13th century.
In film and television
Numerous films have been made on this theme.
- In Darkness Falls, an evil-spirit of a falsely-accused woman named Matilda Dixon (who was nicknamed Tooth Fairy) who was killed long ago assumes the form of the 'Tooth Fairy' and starts haunting by killing anyone who sees her face.
- In The Tooth Fairy, a murderous woman kills children for their teeth.
- More comedic versions on the theme include the 1997 TV movie Toothless, in which Kirstie Alley plays a dentist who reluctantly becomes a tooth fairy.
- In 1991, Lacewood Productions produced a 24-minute children's animated short, entitled Tooth Fairy, Where Are You?, where an unofficial tooth fairy-in-training is discovered by a girl as her tooth is collected. The two became friends and are sad when they must part when the fairy becomes "official".
- In an episode of All in the Family, Edith relates the story of how Archie once called an effeminate dentist "the Tooth Fairy".
- In the Nickelodeon TV series The Fairly OddParents, the sexy Tooth Fairy (voiced by Grey DeLisle) is married to Jorgen Von Strangle.
- In the South Park episode "The Tooth Fairy Tats 2000" the boys attempt to collect teeth in order to make money from the tooth fairy.
- In The Cleveland Show episode "It's the Great Pancake, Cleveland Brown", Donna Tubbs tells Rallo the story of the tooth fairy after he loses his tooth.
- In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, tooth fairies are depicted as small, ravenous creatures with a taste for calcium. They will eat humans alive, starting with the teeth, to get to the bones.
- In The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, the Tooth Fairy (portrayed by Art LaFleur) is part of the Council of Legendary Figures along with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Cupid, Mother Nature, Father Time and the Sandman. Unlike most depictions of the tooth fairy as a female fairy, this fairy is in fact male. The Tooth Fairy has also mentioned that he would like to be called "Captain Floss," "Plaque Man," and "Roy," with Santa suggesting "The Molinator." In the other movie, the Tooth Fairy is with the other council members when they and Santa Claus decide the fate of Jack Frost after he has been doing stuff to upstage Santa Claus.
- In the TV series Arthur, the Tooth Fairy uses all the teeth she collects to make a castle in which she lives.
- In Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Meatwad, Master Shake and Frylock have their teeth stolen by the Creature from Plaque Lagoon while trying to become rich quick in a plot involving trying to rip-off the Tooth Fairy, in the episode Creature from Plaque Lagoon.
- In Metalocalypse, showcases part of a conversation regarding the tooth fairy between characters Nathan Explosion and Toki Wartooth. In the episode "Skwisklok", Toki accepts an endorsement deal for a candy company and is railing against Nathan for trying to calm him down before he pulls out one of his own cavity-ridden teeth nonchalantly and discards it. Toki's shrugs it off, claiming that teeth grow back, to which Nathan corrects him. Toki then goes on to say "Don't you remember being a little kids, when your teeths would fall out and grow back and you would get the old one under the pillow so the ancient Norse god Orthar the Tooths Collector, would come and give you a Pickles Nickel?" (Pickles Nickels were the endorsement deal made by Pickles in the episode, however the design is actually a Buffalo Nickel).
- In the Zoobilee Zoo episode "When You Wish Upon a Tooth Fairy", Whazzat loses her first baby tooth, but the tooth fairy is unfortunately on vacation and doesn't come at night. In her stead, Bravo, Lookout and Van Go dress up as tooth fairies.
- In Tooth Fairy, Dwayne Johnson is a tough minor-league hockey player known for hitting opposing players so hard he knocks out their teeth. When he discourages some a child's dreams and fantasies, he is forced to serve two weeks as a real-life tooth fairy.
- Blair, John R.; McKee, Judy S.; Jernigan, Louise F., Psychological Reports, Vol 46(3, Pt 1), Jun 1980. "Children's belief in Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy". pp 691–694.
- Watts, Linda S. (2007). Encyclopedia of American folklore. NY, NY, United States of America: Facts on file Inc. p. 386. ISBN 0-8160-5699-4 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Cleasby, Richard and Gudbrand Vigfusson, An Icelandic-English Dictionary, 2nd edn by William A. Craigie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), s.v. tannfé (first edition available at http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~kurisuto/germanic/oi_cleasbyvigfusson_about.html).
- Hedges, Helen, Joy Cullen. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 28, 2003. "The Tooth Fairy Comes, or Is It Just Your Mum and Dad?: A Child's Construction of Knowledge". pp 19-24.
- "Tooth fairy leaving less money". UPI Quirks in the News. 2011-07-26.
- "Tooth Fairy Lore Extracted". Toledo Blade. February 2, 1984.
- "The tooth fairy: friend or foe?". The Milwaukee Journal. July 31, 1991.
- Wells, Rosemary. "The Making of an Icon: The Tooth Fairy in North American Folklore and Popular Culture" in 'The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. Peter Narváez ed., 1997. pp 426-446. University Press of Kentucky.
- Clark, Cindy Dell. "Flight Toward Maturity: The Tooth Fairy" in Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith: Children's Myths in Contemporary America. University of Chicago Press, 1995. pp 355-364.
- Sameroff, Arnold and Susan C. Mcdonough. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 76, 1994, "Educational implications of developmental transitions: revisiting the 5- to 7-year shift".
- Lansky, Vicki. Practical parenting tips. New Delhi: Unicorn books. p. 79. ISBN 81-7806-005-1 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Principe1, Gabrielle F. and Eric Smith. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 22, Issue 5, pages 625–642, July 2008. "The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth: how belief in the Tooth Fairy can engender false memories".
- ¡Producto Registrado!: Agosto 1998: Centuria Dental.
- Beeler, Selby B. (1998). Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-6181-5238-4 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Al Hamdani, Muwaffak and Wenzel, Marian. "The Worm in the Tooth", Folklore, 1966, vol. 77, pp. 60-64.
- Lainez, Rene Colato (2010). The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez. Illustrated by Tom Lintern. ISBN 978-1-58246-296-7 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Narváez, Peter (1997) The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. (section V) University Press of Kentucky.
- Wynbrandt, James (1998). The Excruciating History of Dentistry. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-26319-8 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].