Losing teeth is a rite of passage. I remember losing my two front teeth in excitement – just for them to be replaced by crooked teeth that the other kids said were too large and poked fun at.
Maybe it was because our American traditions don’t have us place our teeth in a tree and dance around it to make sure the replacement tooth grows in as straight as the tree. This is what the Native American group the Yellowknife Déné do. Or in Indonesia, where children throw their tooth backward over their shoulder as straight as possible for an even, uniform grin. As it were, my big ol’ front teeth became a calling card, a part of me that everyone came to know. Now, I have a big toothy grin when I feel my happiest. Kids can be cruel, but how can anyone be ashamed of that?!
If you think tooth fairies are the norm for traditions around the world, I have a surprise for you. Rats are way more popular. Why? Apparently rodents are viewed as having very strong teeth, which is what parents hope for the health of their own children’s teeth.
In Mexico, it is a special evening when a child goes to sleep, placing their tooth in a box to wait for the magical El Ratón to take the tooth away and bring some money. For children in South Africa, they place their tooth in a slipper so a mouse can come take it and give them a present. Italian children receive treats from “Topolino dei denti da latte” (the Milk Tooth Mouse). Kids in Kazakhstan put their tooth under their bathtub chiming, “Mouse mouse, bring me a new tooth, please.” Other countries who enjoy an adorable midnight mouse mugger? Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Argentina, Afghanistan, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, France (La Petite Souris), Spain, Georgia, and Bangladesh.
The modern tooth fairy is stealthy, and generally only comes at night. She visits many in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and Denmark (Tand Feen). I have attempted to creep through the night in a child’s messy room to deliver the tooth fairy goods only to trip and fall into my daughter’s dresser. Is #toothfairyfails a thing?
I took a look around at other tooth loss traditions around the world and my findings were fascinating! Here’s some favorites:
Lost teeth are covered with some gold and made into an earring for children to wear.
I’m always a sucker for the macabre, and Jamaica places an eerie air upon tooth traditions. The Rolling Calf is a folklore spirit of someone who lived a bad life. Now the undead lives as a duppy and tries to abduct children’s missing teeth. The children here put their teeth in a tin can and shake it to keep the Rolling Calf at bay.
Here youngsters attempt to throw their tooth over the roof and shout, “Take this bad tooth and bring me a new one!” They then proceed to hop around the outskirts of their home while their family giggles.
Children in Morocco also put their teeth under their pillow, but no one comes and retrieves it. Instead, the children wake up at sunrise and throw their tooth at the sun saying, “I give you a donkey’s tooth, and ask you to replace it with a gazelle’s tooth.”
Teeth are all about future aspirations in Turkey. Parents decide what they hope for their children, and bury the lost tooth there. For instance, if you want your child to be a football star, you’d bury their tooth at Arrowhead. An artist? Head on over to the Nelson Atkins field. A professor? There’s plenty of green space at UMKC for a meaningful burial.
Pakistanis believe that water brings good luck. The youth in their country wrap their tooth in cotton and go to the river at sunset to throw it in for a blessed fortune.
Another roof tooth throwing nation, the kids here say, “Blackbird, blackbird, my old tooth I give to you. Bring me a new tooth.”
No matter the generalized tradition for our region, even more special is the little nuanced customs each individual family adopts. I have a friend whose dad couldn’t wait for him to go to sleep one night. His dad put a blanket over his head, sauntering into the bedroom claiming to be the tooth goblin. Laughter ensued, and the tooth goblin was in high demand every lost tooth that followed.
For me personally, loose teeth have never been my forte. I often hope my kids will lose them at school or I put my partner in charge of any pulling (yuck!). Yet I admit, I keep every one of them, and will hold the keepsake of these life transitions in my heart and memories forever.
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