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The Tooth Fairy


Exactly when the idea of the beautiful tooth fairy fairy leaving coinage for a child’s tooth under the pillow emerged in some European countries is unclear, but it seems to have been as late as the 1900s. In the past, the tooth fairy took the shape of a little mouse, which would come and leave some money under a child’s pillow in exchange for a milk tooth. 

The association of teeth with mice and rats is found in various countries. In Germany, it was believed that a mouse’s head hung about a child helped it to teethe. In certain parts of Britain and Germany, if a tooth fell out or was knocked out, it was thrown away with the loud request: ‘Rats send me a stronger tooth’, as rats’ and mice’s teeth, able to gnaw through anything, were considered strong. Jewish children in southern Russia practised a similar custom. A tooth that had fallen out was thrown up on the roof with a sincere request to the rats to send a much stronger one. Similarly, thousands of miles away on the island of Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean, it is customary for a child whose tooth has fallen out to request another from the rats and mice.

Many strange beliefs concern teething, the teeth, and their disposal, should they fall out. To be born with teeth was looked on as an omen of great misfortune; cutting teeth early was the sign of an early death, as the following saying indicates: ‘Soon toothed, soon turfed’; but cutting the lower teeth first, however, was believed to ensure a long life. Milk teeth that fell out had to be burned, for if they should be found and gnawed by an animal, the child’s new teeth would be like those of the animal that had gnawed the old ones. When a child’s tooth came out of its cavity, the cavity and the tooth should be rubbed with salt to avert any ill luck. Dreaming about one’s teeth was seen as an indication of sickness or death in the family. But on a positive note, a gap between the front teeth wide enough to admit a sixpence meant that the child would have riches and prosperity throughout life – a lucrative prospect thoroughly foiled by orthodontists in modern times. 

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