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The wonderful legend of the tooth fairy

Blog Author Olivia Gambold, Museum volunteer

Blog Date 27/02/2019


National Tooth Fairy day is celebrated each 28 February in the UK, but the day is also sometimes celebrated on 22 August. A popular figure with parents and children today, we can only trace the history of tooth fairy to around the early 1900s.

Peter Navarez in his book on fairy folklore suggested that she is absent from ‘old world’ folklore, and only appears about 1900. 

In Lancashire, children were told to brush their teeth and look after them otherwise they would get a visit from “Jenny Greenteeth’ who used to hang around ponds and she might pull children into the water and drown them. She was perhaps less of a’ good’ fairy and more of a hag or a witch!

Different countries have different traditions too, in France it is a mouse not a fairy – 'la petite souris' - that visits children when their teeth fall out. There are traditions that say if teeth are taken by mice, then that is a good thing, but if a dog gets the teeth, then this is very bad, as your child will grow teeth like a dog! 

In France in 1887, there is a written account of the Virgin Mary collecting children’s teeth and giving toys in exchange. By 1902, it was then a ‘good fairy’ who took the teeth. 

In Spain too, it is Perez mouse - ‘El Ratoncito Perez’ – and in the early 1902, the writer Luis Coloma turned him into a sort of tooth fairy, writing a book for the then young king, with the mouse collecting teeth from both poor and rich children from their bedrooms.  In Latin‐America Perez grabs teeth from children. 

In some of the literature, teeth were often used as amulets, and many cultures believe teeth had some sort of supernatural powers - such as the Mayan civilization, you can see one of their ornately decorated teeth in our collection!

The origins of the tooth fairy are tricky to find, as she is more apparent in oral history, than in written traditions, so the literature is sparse. She does not appear in British Folklorist Katherine Briggs dictionary of British Folk Tales, published in 1970-1, which was a major source on magical creatures.

However, today she is well known by children and parents alike, with the promise of taking your baby tooth, which you put under your pillow, and the tooth fairy leaving you a letter and a shiny coin in return. 

It’s a great way of introducing children to the idea of looking after their teeth, and giving some positive messages about teeth brushing and the importance of limiting sugar consumption

Some dental practices use the idea of the tooth fairy to help encourage good oral health and hygiene, the Dunmurry Dental Practice in Belfast shared this lovely idea of having a tooth fairy door in their practice, where children can leave their dummies or bottles for the tooth fairy, and they post a letter to the child in return to say thank you!

Tooth fairy collage.jpg

Dunmurry Dental Practice tooth fairy letter

Send us your tooth fairy pictures and letters

We’d love to know how you celebrate the tooth fairy, and get some examples of tooth fairy letters or pictures from children (or parents!) for our archive, please send in yours and we’ll share on our website and social media channels.

Olivia Gambold, archivist and BDA Museum volunteer

Sugar and children’s oral health

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