The sweet, gentle character of the Tooth Fairy which we know today hasn’t been around for long. She first become popularized with children during the late 1940’s, when a book called The Tooth Fairy was published in America by Lee Rothgow. Before this time children and parents across the world celebrated the loss of a child’s milk teeth with all sorts of imaginative, paganistic and often bizarre rituals.
In many countries children often threw or fed their teeth to an animal with strong sharp teeth, making a wish that their new teeth will soon grow to be similarly strong. Popular toothy animals included hyenas, dogs, bears, and even beavers in one part of Canada. The direction in which a child’s tooth was thrown was also considered important – North, South, East or West – depending on the direction of the sun, the moon or whatever planetary alignments were in vogue at the time. In Australia lower jaw teeth were thrown upwards onto the roof of the house and upper teeth buried beneath it. One ritual recorded even suggests grinding up the milk teeth and feeding them to the child’s granny!
But the closest relative of today’s tooth fairy is the French ritual of La Bonne Petite Souris. This squeaky french fairy was a mouse which snuck into a child’s bedroom at night. The child would leave their milk teeth in their shoe for the tooth mouse to find and in return the mouse would leave a small gift for the child. This little mouse originated from a French fairy tale dating back to the 18th Century about a mouse that transforms into a fairy in order to help a Good Queen overthrow an Evil King by hiding under his pillow and, in one instance, knocking out all of his teeth.
Regardless of the details of the mythology, losing these first milk teeth is considered and important rite of passage and has been celebrated with makeshift magic and mysticism as befitting the passage from childhood into adulthood – whether with wings or with magical mice.