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Tooth Traditions

There are many tooth traditions surround thing rite of passage that comes with losing baby teeth. In the United States and Canada our tooth tradition is to put the tooth under a pillow and wait for the Tooth Fairy to exchange it for money. But what do other countries do? Who takes their teeth? What happens to our teeth?

The Different Beings Who Collect Your Teeth

belief in the Tooth Fairy is pretty popular
Belief in the Tooth Fairy is pretty popular.

Obviously there is the Tooth Fairy. We have an entire blog dedicated to the character and origins. But what other beings are believed to collect teeth?

Well, North America isn’t the only region/country to believe in the Tooth Fairy. Children Denmark, England and Australia also place their fallen teeth under their pillows at night, hoping the Tooth Fairy will exchange money or gifts for the tooth.

In the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, Haití, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, South Africa, France, Germany, Spain, Russia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh the tooth tradition children are told about is mouse or rat that will collect the tooth and leave a gift or some money in return. This Mouse or Rat has many names including El Raton, El Ratoncito, Ratoncito Perez and La Petite Souris and in different regions expects the tooth to be hidden in different places. In Mexico, El Raton will collect the tooth from under a pillow. In Uganda, children leave the tooth behind a pot along the path the rats use. In South Africa, the mouse looks for the tooth in slippers. Sometimes the rat prefers the child throw the tooth up on the roof or under the bed or a piece of furniture. In these cases, a gift isn’t usually left. In Argentina and Sweden, the tooth is put in a glass of water. This way the magical little mouse can stay hydrated while he goes around collecting teeth. For this thoughtful gift, he usually leaves gifts of candy or coin in the glass.

In El Salvador, a rabbit comes along and leaves a child money to replace the tooth.
Sometimes, the being who comes for the tooth isn’t a good being. In Jamaica, children believe a spirit called Rolling Calf will come to their room after a tooth has fallen out. This Rolling Calf isn’t there just to take the tooth, but the child as well. So parents have their children put the tooth in a tin can and shake it as hard and loud as they can to ward off the Rolling Calf.

Other Tooth Traditions from Around the World

Many cultures, such as the Yupik Tribe and Kyrgyzstan, believes if a child wraps the tooth in food and feeds it to an animal, the tooth will be replaced with a stronger tooth.

In Egypt, Libya and Oman, children are encouraged to throw their teeth towards the sun in the hopes that the sun will send them back a bright, strong tooth.

Children will ask birds (who will only take clean, healthy teeth) to bring them back a new, stronger tooth in Brazil, Mali and Moldova.

Children in Lebanon, Turkey, Nepal, Malaysia, Philippines and New Zealand have the traditions of throwing their teeth into fields, streams or seas or burying them in special gardens. In Turkey, the garden selected to bury the first lost tooth is thought to bring about the child’s future. For example, if the tooth is buried in the garden of a university, it is believed the child will graduate from school.

In Costa Rica, Chile, Lithuania and Pakistan parents make the teeth into keepsakes of a sort. Either necklace charms or earrings, or put it in a special box.

Placing the tooth in a tree or plant to grow tall, straight and strong is a very important tradition among the Yellowknife Dene, the Navajo and the Aboriginal Australians. These cultures believe as the tree or plant grows, the new tooth will grow just as straight and strong.

But the most common tradition seems to be throwing the tooth onto the roof. In Brazil, Cameroon, Botswana, Benin, Nigeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Greece, Georgia, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, children are told by their parents to throw their fallen teeth onto their roof. In some culture, a tooth lost from the lower jaw is thrown onto the roof, and a tooth lost from the upper jaw is thrown under the house, under the bed or under a piece of furniture so the replacement tooth will follow suit (grow in straight down or grow in straight up).

What Happens to the Teeth?

When the Tooth Fairy takes our teeth, what does she do with them? Some people may say she has a big “Scrooge McDuck” styled vault where she keeps them. Others say she turns the tooth directly into the money or gift she leaves. But if she is taking them away, why? Well, it’s thought that teeth are collected because they hold the purest memories of childhood. By collecting them, these memories are never truly lost. But what of the other tooth traditions in other parts of the world.

By offering the teeth to the sun, children believe the sun gods or spirits will send them beautiful, bright teeth.

Throwing the teeth up onto the roof may seem weird to some, but to those cultures who participate in this tooth tradition, throwing the tooth straight up to the roof means the tooth will grow in straight. Of course, it also means that when it comes time to clear the gutters, there are a lot of teeth found.

A Rite to Span The World

It’s amazing to find such a vast array of traditions for children whose baby teeth have fallen out. So many cultures have such drastic differences–political, geographical, economical–but one thing is the same. Everyone loses their baby teeth. And nearly every culture has their traditions for what to do with the teeth. It’s a common bond. Something constant, no matter where, or when. Losing ones baby teeth becomes a rite of passage into adulthood, so it becomes equally important to celebrate these little events in whatever way we can.

but so is the belief in a little rat named El Raton.
El Raton Perez, the rat who exchanges teeth for coins.

But there is always room for new traditions, legends and mythologies. What did you grow up doing with your teeth? What would you want your children growing up believing in? The magic of the tooth fairy? Or maybe a magic mouse. What about having several of your children’s baby teeth lining the roof of your house?

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