Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tooth Fairy Economics

I chipped a tooth today. Thankfully, it's not a big chip and it's not one of my more prominent front-facing teeth. But the rough tooth is scratching on the side of my tongue so I'll need to get it fixed tomorrow or I'll end up with an ulcer. Life is pretty racy here in Buckinghamshire.

Teeth have power you know. Oh yes. Even today, sharks' teeth and bears' teeth are still worn on leather thongs as a kind of male power totem. And, apparently, it’s very bad luck to count a person's teeth as each tooth counted will take a year off the person’s life. This is partly the reason why people traditionally cover their mouths when they laugh, smile, or yawn.

Folk belief has it that witches can use discarded parts of the body to cast spells upon the owner. Therefore, disposal of shed teeth was a serious business. Depending on local custom, this could mean throwing the tooth onto a roof, or burning it, or salting it, or burying it, or even swallowing it. Another method was to feed it to an animal - usually a mouse or rat. When it was a child's tooth, this ensured that the child would grow long, strong, sharp teeth.

The idea that a fairy could actually aid you in tooth disposal is fairly recent. It may have come from a French 18th century fairy tale, La Bonne Petite Souris, in which a fairy changes into a mouse to defeat an evil king – which it does by hiding under a pillow and knocking his teeth out. This is supported by the fact that in Spanish speaking countries, the tooth fairy takes the form of Ratoncito PĂ©rez, a little mouse, and in Italy the fairy, or Fatina, is sometimes substituted for a small mouse called Topino. In Germany, she is called Die Pflugenweisermitodontogewesenheit. I have no idea what that means. Or indeed how to begin to pronounce it.

But the Tooth Fairy, as we now know her, materialised in the early 20th century, later reinforced by appearances in popular culture such as Esther Watkins Arnold’s 1927 play The Tooth Fairy, and Lee Rogow's 1949 story of the same name. By the 1950s, the character was as established as the Easter Bunny and was regularly appearing in books, TV shows, cartoons, jokes, etc. People generally welcomed the Tooth Fairy as she promoted good dental hygiene in children and she didn’t charge as much as the dentist.

Believe it or not, serious studies have been done of ‘Tooth Fairy Economics’. Writing in The New York Times, Professor Rosemary Wells - generally acknowledged as the world's leading tooth fairy authority - tracked the exchange rate for teeth from 1900 to 1980 against the consumer price index in the USA, and found that the tooth fairy had kept up with inflation.

Mind you, this is the same lady who, until her death, maintained a Tooth Fairy Museum*.

No, really.

*The New York Times, June 23rd 1981.

Tooth Fairy costume by Buycostumes

11 comments:

Stuart Peel said...

That's a sweet little name for the Spanish version isn't it ? I recently found out that they call 'Daffy Duck' by the rather odd name of 'Pato Lucas'. 'Pato' means duck, but what's with this 'Lucas' business ? It isn't a Spanish word, just a name. Funny bunch of chaps.

Katie said...

The tooth fairy never left enough money when I was little. Yeah, I was an ungrateful child. ;)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Stu - Aha! That explains why the duck is called Pato in that amazingly cute animated series called 'Pocoyo'!

Katie - The tooth fairy left me IOUs. Little cow.

Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) said...

Thank you for a most informative post, what with Halloween approaching - now my costume choice and where to get it solved. They take it quite seriously here you know and one wants to fit in and all.

Me said...

I am pleased Mini Me can sleep knowing uncle steve supports the tooth fairy. She got 2 quid last week for the molar she lost in that nasty fall. She was so bashed though it was like a CICB payout!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Awww ... brave ickle soldier. xx

Persephone said...

That isn't the same Rosemary Wells who wrote all those nifty kids' books is it? I'd be very sorry to hear she'd passed on...

Stevyn Colgan said...

Persephone - I have no idea but I shall endeavour to find out.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Persephone - No it isn't. She lives!

Persephone said...

Yay!

Stevyn Colgan said...

I thought you'd be pleased.