USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘tooth fairy’
Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

The Tooth Fairy

Informant: “When [my children] were growing up and their teeth fell out, we would tell them to put the tooth under their pillow, and during the night the tooth fairy would come and leave a dollar under their pillow and take the tooth.”

Collector: Where did you first hear about the tooth fairy?

Informant: “Well, I first heard it from my mother when I was little. My mom told me to take the tooth and put it in this little pouch with a picture of a tooth on it, and when I woke up there would be a quarter in there. I guess the tooth fairy has upped the amount of money she gives up nowadays [laughs].”

Collector: Do you know why the tooth fairy wanted teeth?

Informant: “Oh that’s actually a really good question, I’m not really sure… Wow, that’s weird, we’ve been doing this for who knows how long, and no one’s ever asked what she does with the teeth. I guess I just never thought to ask because for me it was always just you wake up and ‘ooh! A Quarter!’ and then not really think about it. I’m not even sure if she actually needed the tooth, I remember one time I actually physically lost my tooth, and I was really bummed because I wouldn’t get my quarter, so my mom told me to put a white bean under my pillow instead, and that was supposed to work because the tooth fairy would think it was a tooth or something. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I remember hearing that she used the teeth to string necklaces or make stars or something like that”

Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage. The informant’s daughter is a recent college graduate.

Collector Analysis: This particular folklore is actually (in the collector’s opinion) fairly widely spread in the United States, and in fact this collector actually heard a similar story growing up. The most curious aspect of this story is that most of the people who have heard of the tooth fairy have little to no idea why this fairy is collecting teeth. Of course, the experience of losing one’s baby teeth as a child is a nearly universal aspect of human life, and it is quite possible that this story originated as a way to encourage children to report their lost teeth to their parents, who of course would be interested in the dental health and developmental progress of their children. It also may have been meant as a way to encourage children to remove their loose teeth, as it is possible that keeping a loose tooth in one’s mouth for too long could potentially cause health and/or hygiene complications.

Childhood
Customs
general
Life cycle

Ritual – Beverly Hills, California

“I never got dollars from the tooth fairy- I always got coins… special coins though, like silver dollars. It was always a surprise to see what coin I would get… they were always coins that are never used though, so I had a box that I saved them in… As I got older, I learned that my mom actually saved my teeth…”

The tooth fairy comes to almost everyone I know, and as a kid it was an honor to loose a tooth, it was a prize to be able to show off a gap in your smile and then on top of that you got a present from the tooth fairy. Eric is a 23-year-old USC graduate. He grew up in Beverly Hills and now continues to work in Los Angeles as an accountant. We were talking about teeth one day at my house because I had a dentist appointment over spring break. As we were on the topic of teeth, I remembered that when I was little I opened a drawer in my mom’s dresser and found my teeth. Of course I was devastated because I thought the tooth fairy had my teeth, but my mom calmed me down by explaining that what the tooth fairy actually does is take the teeth from under my pillow and replace it with money and then put my teeth under my mom’s pillow. Apparently, the tooth fairy did the same for Eric when he discovered that his mom also had a collection of his teeth. However, there was difference between Eric and I, I got some money, usually a $2 bill and a little stuffed animal while Eric usually got some collectable coin. Eric first heard about the tooth fairy from his parents who had to explain to him about loosing a tooth and then how to put it under his pillow and wait for the tooth fairy’s surprise.

Eric and I were laughing about how seriously we took the tooth fairy and how other kids we knew also cherished her. Loosing teeth is a natural stage in life but making it into something magical and mystical because of the fairy makes loosing teeth monumental. Almost everyone has a tooth fairy story but each one is unique which is why I think people love to share their own version.

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