Mom will forever remember the first appearance of her baby’s teeth. Children compare themselves to each other, pointing out the higher status of getting their adult teeth. The loss of permanent teeth is synonymous with advancing age. Teeth indelibly mark the passage of our lives.
The great mystery in this progression is the shedding of the milk teeth, marked by the appearance of The Tooth Fairy.
Vikings paid a fee for the use of the tooth as jewelry. Taken into battle, the wearer had increased power. To this day, Scandinavians pay the child for the first tooth. In modern day Belgium, a mother wears a pendant bearing a tooth from each child.
The Medieval English would burn the tooth, lest a witch use it to cast an evil spell on the child. Baby teeth have been planted to aid the growth of the new tooth. Destroying the tooth by burning meant the child would not have to search for the lost tooth in its afterlife.
What would the Tooth Fairy do with those teeth anyway? It has been postulated they become the stars in the endless sky. Perhaps they are ground into fairy dust and used to fly. Stacked like stones, the fairies may build castles. My favorite is that the fairies plant them to grow children; indeed baby teeth can be a source of stem cells. Growing a child from a tooth might be a real possibility. It would be the child’s younger twin!
In the Middle East, a child might toss a tooth up to Allah, in hopes of a better tooth growing in. In the South of India, it is buried to help grow the new tooth. Turkish children throw the tooth on the roof of the house. Asian children throw an upper tooth onto the roof, and bury a lower tooth under the house.
In the lowlands of Scotland, the tooth is taken by a white fairy rat. Fatina, a small mouse, is the Patron Tooth Fairy of Italy. Spanish and Hispanic cultures similarly have a rodent tooth fairy named Ratoncito Perez or similarly.
Delta Dental Company’s survey finds the going cost of a baby tooth today is $2.10. But in July 2011, UPI reported the going rate was $2.60. It comes as no surprise to us dentists that the ‘authorative’ Delta survey is far below the real market cost. By the time most dental insurers actually pay for the tooth, the child may be out of college. But I digress…
Our culture, like others, has a deeply embedded Tooth Fairy. E. Arnold wrote a play, ‘The Tooth Fairy’, in 1927. In 1949, Lee Rogow wrote a wildly popular story by the same title. By the 1980’s, marketing had come to the Tooth Fairy in the form of pillows and dolls. Cutesy tooth containers featuring Disney characters or Winnie the Pooh make welcome gifts.
On April Fools, Day, graduate students in Physics often publish mock scientific papers. My favorite this year is “Non-detection of the Tooth Fairy at Optical Wavelengths”, E. Armstrong, Department of Physics, University of California, San Diego.
Parents can download a Certificate of Delivery from the Tooth Fairy at dltk-teach.com
Children’s author Rosemary Wells has written several delightful books on the subject of teeth. She should not be confused with the recently deceased Dr. Rosemary Wells of Northwestern University Dental School. Dr. Wells, widely published on Tooth Fairy literature, maintained a grand museum of Tooth Fairy memorabilia.
Allow your child believe in the Tooth Fairy for as long as possible. It’s good to hold hands with the happy memories of one’s innocent age.
Dr. Jim Nager is a practicing dentist and resident of Belmont, and a Clinical Instructor at Harvard. Questions of a general nature can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.