My niece's young daughter has her first loose tooth. Elise is very excited about it all and rightfully proud of this huge event. I thought of her today as I looked at my first grade students and saw how many of them have those wonderful, huge gaps in their smile. Don't you think that there is something really special about those smiles, even if they do make it almost impossible to eat corn on the cob. For adults and older kids they bring back memories of first loose teeth. Losing a tooth is a sign that you are growing up. A loose tooth is a great way to get the attention and, sometimes, disgust of others. Then the tooth fairy comes. Wow! It doesn't get much better than that.
As I thought about teeth, I realized that there are many great books about losing teeth. My favorite is a collection of world customs regarding lost teeth. By reading Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby B. Beeler, I learned that there are many ways to treat a lost tooth and many of them have nothing to do with a tooth fairy. In some places it is a mouse that comes to collect the tooth. Others bury their teeth or throw them on the roof. You will find customs that surprise you and ones that make perfect sense.
To learn more about tooth fairies and customs around the world you can visit the Tooth Fairy's own website or on this site of multicultural practices. You will see that in many cultures the growth of new healthy teeth depends in large part on how you handle that tooth.
The tooth fairy got her start in the United States. Immigrants who came to the U.S. from Europe were used to planting lost teeth in the ground. This was hard to do if you live in a tall apartment building in a big city, which is where many immigrants found them selves. It was common then for people to put lost teeth in a flower pot but even that was not as easy as putting the tooth in a glass of water (that is where I left my teeth for the tooth fairy) or under the pillow. That is when the tooth fairy started claiming the teeth and leaving behind a coin.
There are many books about the tooth fairy. Here are some of my favorites.
Jane vs. the Tooth Fairy by Betsy Jay reminds me of many people I know, including the obstinate girl I was at age 6. Jane knows that the tooth fairy will leave money for her tooth, but Jane is not ready to give her tooth that easily so she argues all the reasons why she should keep it. (When I lost my teeth, I always left instructions that I would like the money--which was never more than a dime--but I also would like to keep the tooth. Sometimes the tooth fairy agreed; sometimes she didn't. You see, I had this great idea that I would someday make a necklace out of my teeth and it would be beautiful. Before you decide to do this, let me warn you that lost teeth crack easily and are pretty hard to string. They also are not really that pretty when out of your mouth for too long.)
The Bully Boys Trick the Tooth Fairy by Mike Thaler also has kids who want to keep their own teeth, but they loose them to those bullying Bully Boys. When the boys learn that they can get money for teeth, they quickly decide that more teeth will mean more money. They trick people left and right to collect more teeth. They make a mistake, though, when they decide that the dentist's office is the best place to add to their tooth collection. This book may make you laugh so hard that you loose a tooth or two. Mike Thaler talks some more about teeth in The Dentist From the Black Lagoon.
Sweet Tooth by Margie Palatini is a lushly illustrated story more about a tooth than the tooth fairy, though she does appear at the end. Poor Stewart is an ordinary, nice boy who is always getting in trouble because of a loud and rude sweet tooth that shouts out in class and ruins a family wedding with its loud demands. Stewart comes up with a solution that the tooth find cruel but that is hilarious to the rest of us.
George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra may not be one hundred percent accurate about George Washington's false teeth, but you will enjoy this book filled with rhyme and humor. There are some facts included in the end for those who want to know what the real story is.
Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller is a fun way to learn more about teeth. Imagine that your mouth is a school for teeth who are learning about themselves. While learn where they belong and how to behave, you will learn the names of your teeth, a little about their "bodies", and a lot about how to take care of them.
What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy: A Novel by Gregory Maguire is a novel for readers in fifth through eighth grade. Just when you reach an age that you are not losing teeth and questioning the whole idea of the tooth fairy, along comes this sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, always interesting novel about a lost and confused tooth fairy who ends up where it shouldn't and has an adventure that it never imagined, nor have you. Yes, this is written by the same creative fairy tale writer who wrote the adult novel that was made into the musical "Wicked".
Read a good book about teeth, then go give them a good brushing.
Elise, my grand grandniece, I look forward to seeing pictures of you when your first teeth falls out and then learning what you have done with it.