We all remember losing our first tooth as children, proudly presenting our prize to our parents before hiding it under our pillow for the tooth fairy to find. This mythological character is as sacred to children across America as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. While the mystical tooth fairy holds a special place in children’s hearts, few know the real history of the tooth fairy. Where did this tradition come from and have children across America been celebrating their lost teeth in this way since the beginning of time?

history of the tooth fairy

Surprisingly, the tooth fairy is in fact an extremely recent arrival on the mythological scene. She first appeared in print in 1927 in a brief children’s story by Esther Watkins Arnold. The oldest oral history of the tooth fairy dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Rituals surrounding tooth loss, however, are much older than that. In fact, nearly every culture has some sort of ritual around tooth loss or the disposal of a child’s lost teeth. Some cultures threw lost teeth into the sun, while others threw them into a fire, between the legs, or over the roof of the house. Still others hid them, placed them in a tree, or even swallowed them. While the meaning behind these rituals is unclear, it’s assumed that they were to bring good luck to the family or the child.

The most predominant ritual seen across cultures is the act of leaving a lost tooth out for an animal (usually a mouse) to find and take away in exchange for a gift. By offering a lost tooth up to an animal, families hoped that their child’s teeth would grow in as strong and sturdy as the animal’s. The tooth fairy, then, appears to be a mix of two historic figures: the sneaky mouse that takes the tooth in exchange for a gift, and Europe’s “good fairy,” a traditional figure that is thought to bring good luck.

Around the time that the tooth fairy gained traction in America, Disney released movies like Pinocchio and Cinderella, both of which featured a fairy-like figure of goodness. Pop culture helped the tooth fairy gain traction with toys, children’s books, and movies, and she’s been a staple in America ever since.