By Dr. Heather Hradek
Visits from the tooth fairy are a rite of passage growing up in American culture, but where did this folklore start? Every recorded culture has various methods of acknowledging the loss of the first teeth. The first recorded ‘cash for tooth’ exchange is in Norse and Northern Europe tradition of ‘tand-fe’ or tooth fee paid by the parents when the child lost their first tooth. The Vikings believed their children’s teeth brought them good luck during battle! In Medieval England, it was a superstition to burn the baby teeth to protect them in the afterlife or from witches. In Spanish and Hispanic-American cultures, the Ratoncito Perez, or Perez Mouse in English, originated in Madrid in 1894 and is told that this mouse will exchange a tooth left under a pillow for a small gift.
The actual tooth fairy tale, however, is quite recent and American in origin! The first recorded version of the tooth fairy was written in 1927 by Esther Watkins Arnold in a three act play written for children. Our modern version of the magical fairy came into popularity after World War II, which was a time of economic prosperity and as Disney fairytales, including that of Pinocchio and Tinkerbelle, gained popularity.
What is the going rate for teeth these days? According to a 2013 survey by Visa, American children receive an average of $3.70, although some use the tooth fairy to promote dental health, telling children that healthy teeth receive a larger reward than those with cavities. In our age of Smart Phone technology, there are even apps available to take photos of the tooth fairy as well as Visa has a tooth fairy calculator app to help you determine the going rate for a tooth based on your gender, education, household income and size, and age.
The range for losing the first tooth is quite large—while most children lose their first tooth around 5-6, they can lose it as early as 4 or as late as 7. Sometimes front teeth may come out earlier if there has been trauma to the area from a fall. As the permanent teeth move up towards the mouth, they cause resorption or breakdown of the root of the primary tooth, causing it to get loose or ‘wiggly’. Typically children lose the first 8 front teeth by around age 8. The rest of the baby teeth, from the canines back, are typically lost around ages 10-12.
Baby teeth matter and are important space holders for the permanent teeth that will replace them. Losing teeth prematurely can cause the teeth around it to shift and block out the permanent tooth from erupting into place. If a baby tooth has not been lost by age 7 or has been lost and it has been over a year since the permanent tooth has come in to replace it, let your dentist know so they can take an x-ray of the area. Sometimes extra teeth or cysts can prevent the permanent tooth from coming in. Don’t force a tooth out if it is not loose as it could cause the tooth root to fracture—instead have your child focus on eating crunchy hard snacks such as carrots, apples, or nuts. If you do help your child with their wiggly tooth, make sure to wash your hands beforehand, grab a piece of gauze or Kleenex, and expect a little bit of blood… and don’t forget to put it under the pillow!
Chesterton Family Dental is the general dental office of Dr. Mystie Pieters, Dr. Heather Hradek, and Dr. Robert Pieters providing comprehensive dental care for the entire family.