Oral & Vision Health Blog

Fairy Magic: The Surprising Origin of the Tooth Fairy

Most of us grew up filling our piggy banks with the money we received for our baby teeth as we lost them. Who could forget the overwhelming excitement they felt the morning they awoke to find a dollar bill under their pillow? 


Children know the tooth fairy as a little lady with wings and a wand spreading pixie dust and leaving money every time a tooth is lost. Think of a generous Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan story. 

Fairy Facts:

  • The Tooth Fairy name was first published in 1908.
  • In Europe, baby teeth were carried for good luck, saved for the afterlife, and buried for protection from witches.
  • The value of baby teeth has changed based on society and the economy.
  • You can turn the teeth into a keepsake or use them for a science project.

But as children grow, they learn that their parents made the fantasy a reality. It leaves us to wonder: where does the idea of swapping out a child’s tooth for a monetary prize come from? Join us as we delve into the magical and surprising tooth fairy origin story.

Where did the tooth fairy come from?

The Tooth Fairy was first mentioned by name in 1908. It was published in an article in the Chicago Tribune. In exchange for each loose baby tooth, children would get five cents under their pillow. At the time, each tooth could pay for a movie ticket or a shoeshine!

Image of opened magic book with magic lights

What is the origin of the tooth fairy?

Various legends, tales, and traditions relate to a child losing baby teeth. The legend of the tooth fairy dates to the days of early Europe when people would bury their children's teeth in the ground as they fell out. The reasoning behind this varies according to studies. 

Some people believed that ridding themselves of their child’s baby teeth would save them from suffering in the afterlife. Others, such as the Scandinavians, believed children’s teeth were tokens of luck in war and battle and would wear them around their necks. All hail Viking teeth! 

During medieval times, the fear of witches casting spells on children caused parents to bury their teeth as they fell out. The tradition varies across regions, but how did the tooth fairy become associated with monetary compensation?

Golden piggy bank isolated over a white background

Why does the Tooth Fairy leave money?

Aspects most associated with the tooth fairy, like leaving behind money, can be traced back to Northern Europe. There was a long-standing tradition of “tand-fé,” loosely translated as “tooth fee,” which was paid out when a child lost their first tooth. 

After losing six teeth, it became customary for children to receive a reward (typically money). Over time, parents began to give small rewards for each tooth instead of the sixth one – sometimes as a surprise. 

The reward amount was determined by several factors, such as the financial situation of the child’s family, what the child’s peers were receiving, and what was an acceptable amount at the time. It has been said that the tooth fairy has been affected by inflation, going from $1.30 in 1998 to $6.23 in 2023. There is no word on the monetary value of wooden teeth.

Evening view from the Vista House, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Where does the tooth fairy live?

The tooth fairy lives in Fairy Land. It is a magical and secretive place not found on maps but rumored to be near Brush, CO. The tooth fairy’s house is believed to be a huge white castle with towers and a sparkling moat made of teeth collected from children. It sounds magical and weird, much like the idea of the tooth fairy.

First day to go in school, first tooth down )

What to do with your child’s baby teeth?

If you are not interested in building a castle made of teeth, you might want to preserve the memory of this milestone. You can put the teeth in a keepsake box, make jewelry, or even use them for a school science project. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn into a scenario like was seen in The Simpsons.

Happy family sitting on sofa and using laptop, mobile phone and digital tablet at home

How do I talk to my child about the tooth fairy?

There are many considerations to make when talking to your child about the tooth fairy, based on age and development. You can do your best to keep up the magic for as long as your child is having fun. 

When the time comes that they have outgrown it, find a gentle way to tell them all about the tooth fairy. You will want to ensure your child doesn’t tell their unsuspecting siblings or friends the news.

Also, remember that the tooth fairy provides an excellent incentive for encouraging young kids to pay attention to their oral health

The tooth fairy and the symbolism of teeth have much more history than meets the eye. From good luck battle charms to fun traditions for children, the legend of the tooth fairy has been around for centuries. And it doesn't appear to be going anywhere. 

Who knows how future generations will alter the meaning of the tooth fairy...we will have to wait and find out! 

Speaking of teeth, you can learn all about the importance of taking care of your teeth at all stages of life with our free eBook about Dental Care Through the Ages.

Download our Free eBook on Dental Care Through The Ages now!

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