The Tooth FairyMay 21st, 2012 | Posted by in Oh
When I was four I saved a tooth I had lost for nearly seven months until putting it under my pillow on Christmas Eve because I thought that Santa Clause would pay better than some little fairy. Let’s be honest, it’s no surprise that Santa is the big hitter on the team of mythical holiday figures portrayed by our parents and embedded into our childhoods, and aside from this tactical move of a young, strategic me, there’s never really been any conflict in my world regarding who takes our teeth when we put them under our pillows.
Now my Guanajuatan friend, Lupita, has told me that rather than the Tooth Fairy, “el Ratón de los Dientes” visits her children when they lose teeth. For the English speaking readers, that means “the Tooth Mouse”. Yeah, I know. I was pretty confused myself. Lupita and I meet on Monday evenings to practice our second languages, and while I was able to discuss her daughter’s lost teeth and the circumstances around their falling out, I did not know the word for fairy. After some ridiculous fake wing flapping and Tinkerbell references, Lupita laughed and corrected me. ”No, el Ratón. ¿Cómo se dice… mouse?” I was dumbfounded. Maybe she didn’t understand what I was going for.
“Wait, wait” I said to her in Spanish, “you’re saying that instead of a fairy taking your daughter’s teeth and leaving money or a gift, it is a mouse?” She confirmed, eagerly.
Seriously, how did I not know that this happened? He is most commonly known in Spanish speaking countries as Ratoncito Pérez, though Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Colombia go with simply El Ratón Pérez, and some areas of Mexico, Peru, and Chile stick with the alias of el Ratón de los Dientes. This is not just a misunderstanding of one silly family or an anomaly of a small region in Mexico. We’re talking about whole nations on multiple continents and different hemispheres all in agreement that their teeth are removed from underneath their pillows by… a mouse. Not our sweet, gentle, glittering fairy, but a rodent. In your bed. Go ahead friends, take all the time you need to regroup.
I must admit that I didn’t take Lupita’s word for it right away. After some research though, it appears she is correct. Here are some other interesting facts I’ve found about the world traditions surrounding lost teeth:
- Our Tooth Fairy proper exists only in various countries in the Anglosphere. Per a 2011 study, American children are averaging $2.60 per tooth. It appears the child who wrote this note feels strongly about improving that number though.
- Apparently Ratón Pérez is a pretty famous chap, having starred in a self-titled movie in 2006 as well as a series of Colgate advertisements and a partnership with Delta Dental on a preventative care education initiative. His name is also the title of this completely wonderful video that I happened upon, which, while appearing to be based on his visits, is probably actually a McDonald’s commercial and borders on expelling the myth altogether.
- France and Belgium’s tooth collector is called la petite souris (the little mouse), and in Lowland Scotland, a white fairy rat purchases your teeth with coins. We may be outnumbered here on the fairy vs rodent debate.
- Children in some countries, such as Botswana, India, Vietnam, and Korea, throw their teeth onto the roof or put them in the space underneath the house dependent on which jaw they came from (bottom and top, respectively). This tradition inspired the name of Selby Beeler’s book on the subject, which would have made for an excellent source of information had Amazon let me view more than 2 pages without purchasing…
- Perhaps based on a pre-Islamic tradition of offering, many Middle Eastern children, including those from Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt, and Palestine, throw their teeth to the sun.
- At least we didn’t grow up in Finland. There, the tooth troll, Hammaspeikko, is lured by candy and sweets to teeth that he then drills cavities into. Why reward children for brushing their teeth when we can just scare them into doing it? For a visual, check out this fancy cake featuring Hammaspeikko or view his much-creepier-than-the-cake’s-rendering MySpace page.
Folklore dictates that a tooth eaten by an animal will be replaced by a tooth of that animal. Mice, having very strong teeth that continue growing until they die, seem to be a good candidate to provide permanent pearly whites to human children. Right? Though I’m sure that you’d be hard-pressed to find scientific support for that reasoning, at least there’s a purpose behind the belief. At least we know why el Ratón de los Dientes takes the teeth. All reality aside, I think it’s about time it was asked. What the hell is that fairy doing with all of our teeth?
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This is awesome. I never bought into the tooth fairy because I would get like a quarter, not this average $2.60 business!
So this particular fairy wasn’t one to always have cash on hand. Mistake number one. Number two, not having a back up plan for the mistakes of the imaginary. As the hundreds of questions flew from your inquisitive lawyer style brain, I did what any exhausted mother of three would do. Passed off one lie for an even greater one. It haunted me until Santa landed that year. Love your story.
For even more research, check out the children’s book “The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez”, by Rene Colato Lainez. I knew I was familiar with the mouse story.