Tooth Traditions from Around the World: It’s Not Just the Tooth Fairy!
Being the youngest child of seven, I'm not sure I really had a chance to believe in the tooth fairy. By the time I started losing my teeth, I think my parents had gone through this process so many times before that they simply gave me money for my lost tooth and then put my tooth in an old 35 mm film canister. I'm not sure what became of that little container of my baby teeth...
Dr. Rosemary Wells, the curator of the Tooth Fairy Museum (yes, it really exists!) in Deerfield, Illinois has stated that the tooth fairy is only known to exist in the United States and in countries with a similar ethnic background. This made me wonder what exactly happens all over the world when little boys and girls lose their teeth.
After reading some books, I was able to find out that there are several twists on the tooth fairy that include feeding your teeth to dogs, throwing your tooth to the sun or on the roof, and summoning the help of a variety of animals to ensure that your permanent tooth will grow in properly.
Here are some other interesting tooth traditions from around the world arranged in alphabetical order for your reading pleasure.
Kids in Afghanistan throw their teeth in a mouse or rat hole. They want the rodent to give them a nice, strong tooth like the ones they have.
American Indian Tribes
The parents of children in the Chippewa tribe use charcoal to make the lost tooth turn black and then throw it to the west while asking the child's grandma to help the permanent tooth to grow in strong.
The Cherokee Indian children would run around the house with the lost tooth and then throw it on the roof while reciting this phrase four times: "Beaver, put a new tooth in my jaw!"
Navajo Indian children take their tooth to the southeast, away from their house. They bury the tooth on the east side (the east is associated with childhood) of a sagebrush, rabbitbrush, or pinyon tree.
Teton Indian children bury their tooth in the dirt at the entrance to the lodge. Anyone who walks over the spot where the tooth is buried is said to grow a new tooth.
Shuswap and Yupik Indian kids mix their lost tooth in with some meat and then feed the mixture to a dog while saying, "Make my teeth strong."
The Dene Yellowknives have their mother or grandmother take their lost tooth, put it in a tree, and then have their family dance around the tree. This makes it so that their new tooth comes in straight as a tree.
Children used to throw their lost tooth to a howling hyena, asking the hyena for strong teeth.
Children in Argentina put their tooth in a glass of water. During the night El Ratoncito, a little mouse, will drink the water, take the tooth, and then leave some coins or candy in the empty glass.
Children in Australia put their tooth under their pillow and wait for the tooth fairy to come give them money in exchange for their tooth.
Children in Botswana throw their tooth on the roof and then ask the moon to bring them a new tooth.
Some children in Brazil throw their tooth outside and ask the birds to take it and bring them another one. The birds will only take the tooth if it doesn't have any cavities! Other children throw their tooth out of their window and onto the roof while asking Saint John to take it and bring them a healthy new tooth.
Chinese kids put their upper teeth at the foot of their beds and put their lower teeth on the roof. It is hoped that this will make their permanent teeth grow in faster.
Colombian children put their tooth under their pillow. A mouse named El Ratón Miguelito takes their tooth and gives them money.
Danish children put their tooth under their pillow and wait for the tooth fairy to come give them some money.
Egyptian children wrap their teeth in a tissue and take it outside. They throw their tooth at the sun, asking the son to take their buffalo tooth and give them a bride's tooth. This is similar to most children in middle-eastern countries, who throw their tooth at the sun, hoping that it will give them back a tooth to make their smile brighter!
Children in El Salvador put their teeth under their pillow. At night, a rabbit comes and takes their tooth, leaving behind money.
In England, kids put their tooth under their pillow and wait for the tooth fairy to come and leave money.
French children put their teeth under their pillows. At night le petite souris, a mouse, will take away their tooth and leave a gift.
Children in Greece throw their teeth on the roof for good luck. Then they make a wish that their adult teeth will be healthy and strong.
Children in Guatemala put their tooth under their pillow and wait for a mouse to take their tooth away and leave them some money.
Children in Haiti throw their tooth on the roof and ask a rat to give them a good tooth in return for their old baby tooth.
Some kids in India throw their tooth on the roof and ask a sparrow to bring them a new tooth. Other children in India throw their tooth at the sun, hoping for a bright adult tooth in return.
Indonesian children throw their tooth backwards over their shoulder and over the roof of their house. If they throw the tooth straight, their permanent tooth will grow in straight. If they throw it crooked, they will have crooked teeth.
Jamaican children believe that when their tooth comes out, a Calf will come to take them and their tooth away. To keep the calf at bay, the children will put their tooth in a tin can and shake it so that it scares the calf.
Children in Japan throw their upper teeth in the dirt and their lower teeth on the roof. The thought behind this is that their new teeth will grow in straight as they grow toward their old teeth.
Children in Korea throw their tooth on the roof of their house and sing, "Blackbird, blackbird, my old tooth I give to you. Bring me a new tooth."
Lithuanian children keep their teeth as a souvenir.
Malaysian kids bury their lost baby tooth in the ground. They believe that since the tooth was part of their body, it should be returned to the earth.
Children in Nepal are very protective of their lost tooth. They believe that if a bird sees or eats their tooth, then a new one won't grow in. Their goal is to bury their tooth so that it won't ever be seen or found and eaten by a bird.
Children in Nigeria have an interesting tradition. If you're a boy, you hold your tooth and eight stones in your fist. Girls hold six stones and their tooth in their fist. The child then closes their eyes, states their name, and counts to the number in the fist. They then say, "Oh, I want my tooth back!" Next, they throw everything in their fist up in the air and run away as fast as they can.
Kids in Pakistan wrap their lost tooth in cotton then throw their tooth in a nearby river at sunset for good luck.
Children in the Philippines hide their lost tooth and make a wish. If they are able to find their teeth after one year, then they can make another wish.
Children in Russia put their lost teeth in mouse holes in the hope that the mouse will give them a strong tooth as a replacement.
Spanish children put their teeth under the pillow. A little mouse named Ratoncito Perez will take away their tooth in exchange for money or candy.
Sri Lankan kids stand outside of their house, close their eyes and say, "Squirrel, Squirrel, take this tooth and give me a new one." Then they throw their tooth on the roof and go back into their house. Then they open their eyes.
Swedish children put their tooth in a glass of water. In the morning a coin mysteriously takes the place of the tooth in the glass of water.
Children in Taiwan throw their teeth on the roof.
Children in Tajikistan plant their teeth in the ground, hoping that the tooth will grow into a warrior.
The parents of children in Turkey believe that their child's lost tooth holds within it their future. If they want their child to become a great soccer player, they will bury the tooth in a soccer field. If they wanted their child to go to dental school (what kind of parent would?!) then they would bury the child's tooth around a dental school.
Children in the United States put their lost teeth under their pillow at night. The tooth fairy comes and takes their tooth away and usually leaves a small amount of money under the child's pillow in exchange for the tooth.
I obtained information for this article from a variety of sources, including:
- Selby B. Beeler's great book, Throw Your Tooth on the Roof. I highly recommend this book as it has even more countries than I included here. If you want about the most comprehensive list of tooth traditions around the world, this is your book!
- The Excruciating History of Dentistry, a good book by James Wynbrandt.
- Wikipedia's article on Tooth Traditions Around the World
Any Other Lost Tooth Traditions?
What about you? Do you do something different than what was mentioned above? If so, please leave a comment in the comments section below — I'd love to hear about your lost tooth traditions.
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