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Today's Family Magazine

Time to tango with the Tooth Fairy?

By Christa Melnyk Hines

It seems like just days ago when I waited patiently for my son’s first little biters to erupt in his infant mouth.  Those days somehow melted magically into years and before I knew it, I could hear the Tooth Fairy fluttering about. 

Like many parents, I wondered: what is developmentally normal when it comes to baby tooth loss, how does the tooth-obsessed fairy collect her pearly prizes, and what is the paying pixie’s going rate for a baby tooth these days?

Losing baby teeth

Lyndhurst pediatric dentist Dr. Trista Onesti says, in general, children lose their first tooth between the ages of 4 and 7 and that the bottom teeth (mandibular arch) are usually the first to fall out.

Should you yank a loose tooth? “We advise to assist by wiggling it with freshly hand-washed fingers,” says Dr. Onesti.  “You can move both back and forth and by twisting the tooth once the tooth is noticeably naturally loose.  Biting into an apple can also help dislodge a tooth that just won’t budge.  We discourage any strings tied to doors, remote cars, or any other such means.  If the tooth isn’t ready, the child may be hurt.  It will take several weeks from sensing the first mobility of the tooth and it finally coming out.”

When a new tooth is coming in, Dr. Onesti recommends massaging it with a damp gauze and finger pressure or a wet toothbrush to help alleviate the pain.  Soft, cold foods should be eaten and not hard foods.  It is also advisable to keep the area clean by brushing both the new and the retained baby tooth to avoid food impaction which can cause additional pain and sometimes infection.  If the pain is severe, ibuprofen is recommended.  Be sure to consult your child’s dentist if you have any concerns.

Enter the Tooth Fairy 

That first loose tooth can cause anxiety for some children.  Often, anxiety turns to excitement as children listen to tooth-loss stories exchanged among classmates and anticipate the reward the Tooth Fairy leaves behind.

While the exact origin of the enigmatic Tooth Fairy is steeped in mystery, historically the loss of baby teeth is an important rite of passage.

The earliest known written records regarding baby teeth date from northern Europe and describe a tann-fe, or tooth fee, in which money was paid for a baby tooth.

In the Middle Ages, Europeans, fearing witches could curse their children if they acquired their baby teeth, buried the teeth in the ground. The Vikings wore baby teeth as jewelry considering them good luck talismans in battle.  Other cultures fed the teeth to animals believing the adult tooth would resemble the animal’s powerful, strong teeth. 

Today, countries all over the world continue to mark the loss of baby teeth with various customs.  In Spain, France, Italy and Mexico, for example, the Tooth Fairy appears as a small white mouse or rat, symbolic because rodents have strong teeth that never stop growing.

In Sweden, the baby tooth is placed in a glass of water where it is mysteriously replaced overnight with coins.  And, it is customary in much of the Middle East for baby teeth to be thrown towards the sun and in Asia, onto the roof. 

The Tooth Fairy as many of us know her, appeared in the early 1900s. 

Cups, pillows, pockets and doors 

The Tooth Fairy isn’t picky about how she collects baby teeth.  Lori Poland grew up placing her baby teeth in a clear glass of water on her nightstand.  She says she loved fishing a wet $2 bill out of the cup the next morning, setting it out to dry and storing it in her memory box.

Although a tooth placed in a plastic sealable bag or envelope tucked under the pillow should do the trick, many parents opt for a Tooth Fairy pillow or pouch for their youngster.  Retailers offer an assortment of pillows or try making your own. 

Monica Bradford designed a Tooth Fairy Pocket for her 6-year-old son when he lost his first tooth. 

“He placed his tooth in the pocket, hung it on his bedpost and woke up to find $2 for his first tooth,” she says. 

(Check out Pinterest for ideas on making your own Tooth Fairy Pocket.)

Cathy Green, mom of three, says the Tooth Fairy enters their home through a small ceramic door that Green’s step-mother designed.  The door is outside the kids’ bedrooms. After collecting the tooth from a small box under the child’s pillow, the Tooth Fairy replaces the tooth with her reward and leaves the box next to the tiny door. 

The going rate

According to a 2019 survey conducted by Delta Dental, the Tooth Fairy’s cash payouts have dropped by 43 cents, with kids receiving an average of $3.70 per tooth.

Beth Foster says that the Tooth Fairy typically pays $1 per tooth although her daughter Logan, 6, discovered a $5 payout under her pillow for her fifth tooth. 

“This is a Foster tradition and I’ve been assured the good old fairy does not leave $10 for the tenth,” Foster says. 

What does the Tooth Fairy do with those teeth?  Legend says that the Tooth Fairy tosses the teeth up to the sky and they become stars. 

Naturally, many theories exist.  Foster’s daughter Logan says, “The fairy uses her wand to shrink the teeth to a very small size so she can carry them in a bag with her from house to house.  She then takes the teeth to Santa so he can use them to make toys.” 

Whatever she does with them, with each tooth lost, adulthood gains another foothold on our kids.  No wonder through the ages we’ve found ways to mark this stage in our kids’ lives, which seems as fleeting as the Tooth Fairy herself.