Many children in South Africa, and most of the English-speaking world, grow up with the notion of a Tooth Fairy. The most common version sees the Tooth Fairy visiting children who have placed their lost teeth under their pillows, and she (or sometimes he) gives them money in exchange.
The lore surrounding this fairytale fairy has expanded over the years. Some versions say the Tooth Fairy will plant a child’s tooth in a nearby field so that their adult teeth may start growing, while others say there is a whole town of Tooth Fairies that collect teeth to build their houses, roads, furniture, toys and such like. The theme of the Tooth Fairy has been used throughout the English world and can be considered an intrinsic part of English childhood culture.
But what about non-English-speaking countries? In many European countries children grow up with the ‘Tooth Mouse’, a character which, strangely enough, is also present in the South African Afrikaans culture known as ‘die Tandmuis’, who collects teeth that children have placed in their slippers. ‘Die Tandmuis’, using the same premise as the tooth fairy, collects teeth from children in exchange for money, which he then uses to fix the ivory keys of tiny pianos.
There have been many versions of the Tooth Mouse throughout history, but the oldest story dates back to the late 1800s in Madrid, Spain, where Ratón Pérez lived in a box of cookies with his family. At night he would steal into the bedrooms of children who had lost a tooth, using the city’s pipes. This story was created by Luis Coloma, who was commissioned to write the story for a little Spanish prince on the occasion of losing his first tooth. Thus Coloma managed to make Ratón Pérez a national folkore icon.
In France the characters of the Tooth Fairy and the Tooth Mouse collide in a story written by Madame d’Aulnoy about a fairy that it able to turn into a mouse, but this story has a much darker side and is not really a fairy tale that plays into the rest of the Tooth Fairy genre.
Asian and Middle Eastern countries have rather different traditions when it comes baby teeth. Many Asians do not tell their children the fairy tale of the Tooth Mouse or Tooth Fairy, but encourage their children to throw their teeth onto the roof of their home. Some take it even further with the tradition of throwing teeth from the bottom jaw onto the roof, and teeth from the upper jaw are dropped between the floorboard. Other traditions specify that children should make a wish while they toss their teeth, and most children wish for the teeth of a rat, or mouse, because of the longevity of rodent teeth.
Originally researched for an Afrikaans>English translation project.
All this information was gathered from the following websites: