The Tooth Fairy

Main piece: Every tooth you got a note from the tooth fairy, who was a woman – a Ms. Tooth Fairy. And she had a wand and a costume. And there was a rate for it. One tooth was $1, molars were $5, and the last tooth was a big deal, like 20 bucks. The fairy is magic. She’s real. She sent me a letter. But, you know, my children loved those notes. One of them kept all of them.

Background:  My informant is a fifty-three year old woman from Los Angeles, California. She is the mother of three children, aged twenty, sixteen, and fourteen. Whenever one of them would lose a tooth, they would receive some money (rates stated above), and a letter from the tooth fairy inquiring after their general well-being, and complimenting how big they’ve grown. To this day, whenever her children ask about the tooth fairy (including her eldest for the purposes of a folklore project), she adamantly says “she” is real. 

Context: The tooth fairy is a common folk character. The Western variation of this folklore states that if a child loses their tooth and leaves it under a pillow, the tooth fairy will come, take the tooth, and bring them money. In the case of my informant’s children, a note would accompany the typical tradition, and my informant continues to tell her children of its existence, even if they are old enough now to no longer believe in her. 

My informant told this story when I brought up Santa Claus as an example of a character rooted in folklore. 

Analysis: The folklore of being given money by the tooth fairy comes from the fear of losing one’s teeth- an otherwise horrific and scary occurrence for any young child to deal with. By rewarding or giving the child a present in exchange for the lost tooth, they are able to take something that would otherwise be seen as strange and scary and make it seem exciting or something to look forward to. The notes as an accompaniment to the money made the experiences of the children of my informant more personal, and having a stock character that wrote to them and comforted them made that experience even easier to handle. Additionally, my informant’s refusal to deny the existence of the tooth fairy to this day has more to do with her perspective than that of the kids’, as having a tooth fairy is part of childhood, and as the children grow up, they no longer need her and stop believing in her. My informant’s insistence of her continued existence in reality is her way of connecting the character with the childhood innocence of her children, even now that they are mostly grown up.  (For another version, see Stuurman, May 18, 2020, “The Tooth Fairy”, USC Folklore Archives)