A tooth for a tooth

lost tooth - Artie Feb 13 16

My gorgeous grandson has just lost his first tooth, an event much anticipated and causing a great deal of excitement. In the months leading up to the event I had wondered how the family might mark the occasion and if the Tooth Fairy might visit. Though I shared the myths of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy with my children when young, as adults they have debated the ethics of perpetuating these myths with their own.

As a teacher of 5 – 7 year olds it was not uncommon for me to encounter gappy grins and lost teeth through the course of the year. Mostly children would arrive at school proudly displaying a new gap, or a new tooth peeking through. Sometimes the tooth would dislodge at school and there would be great excitement. I would carefully place the tooth in the centre of a tissue, fold the edges down around it and sticky tape below the tooth to make a little “tooth fairy” to keep the tooth safe for the return home.

tooth fairy

Sometimes the children would discuss how their families marked the occasion of a lost tooth. Although there were children from diverse backgrounds in the classes I taught, I don’t remember any great divergence from the, to me, traditional tooth fairy story.

When I was a child, I put my tooth in a glass of water and placed it on the kitchen windowsill. The following morning, if I was lucky (for sometimes she’d forget), the Tooth Fairy would have been and left me a shiny silver threepence.

Some children I taught put their teeth under their pillows, some in a special box by their bedside, but what most had in common was the fact that the tooth had been taken and replaced with a shiny coin. Sometimes, when a child lost a tooth, we would read a story such as What do the fairies do with all those teeth? or Moose’s Loose Tooth.

tooth books

While I was contemplating what the response might be to my grandson’s lost tooth, I read about a book called Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby Beeler with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

throw your tooth on the roof

I wondered if it would be a suitable gift to mark the occasion and went ahead and ordered it. I wasn’t disappointed. The book briefly describes traditions from many cultures and countries around the world. While the Tooth Fairy’s visit and gift of a coin is familiar to those of us living in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, it is not so familiar to all. In Mexico and Venezuela a mouse replaces the tooth with money. In El Salvador a rabbit does the same. In Guatemala it is El Ratόn.

The title of the book comes from the tooth traditions of Botswana and the Dominican Republic. In some countries children receive coins, as described above, or a gift in exchange for the tooth. In other countries they ask for a new tooth. In Costa Rica and Chile the tooth is made into an item of jewellery. What surprised me was the great variety of traditions, of which I have mentioned only a few.

In her Author’s Note at the end of the book Selby Beeler explains the chance discussion, with a friend from Brazil who hadn’t heard of the Tooth Fairly, that piqued her interest and lead to the writing of the book. She says,

“I quickly discovered that the best way to learn what people do with their baby teeth is simply to ask them. While collecting customs for this book I stopped people wherever I went. I smiled, introduced myself, and asked them the question I had asked my friend, ‘What did you do with your baby teeth when you lost them?’”

The result is fascinating. Thank you Selby for being curious and asking a question that elicited so many interesting responses. Thank you also for selecting some of the hundreds of traditions and compiling them into this lovely book that enables us to find out a little more about each other; some things that are the same and some that are different. I’d be delighted too if you, esteemed readers, shared your traditions in the comments.

In the introduction to the book Beeler says,

“Has this ever happened to you?

You find a loose tooth in your mouth.

It happens to everyone, everywhere, all over the world.”

I am disappointed that, in all the years I was teaching children in the “loose tooth” age group I hadn’t ever thought to investigate different traditions. Although I took many opportunities to celebrate the diversity in the classroom (I’ve shared some of those here), I wonder what other opportunities I missed. If I was still working with year one children this book would be essential to my collection and sit alongside another favourite for discussing diversity and acceptance, Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. I am pleased I found it in time to gift to my grandson to mark his first missing tooth.

Whoever you are.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is also talking about diversity and has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story of a character who is diverse. Who is this person? Does this character know, accept or reject being perceived as different? As writers, consider how we break stereotypes. Tell you own story of “otherness” if you feel compelled. Or, select a story of diversity, such as rainbows revealing gold. How is diversity needed? How is your character needed?

Coincidentally I am reading a book about diversity at the moment. The book, The Social Brain: How Diversity Made the Modern Mind by Richard Crisp was reviewed by Anne Goodwin who blogs at Annecdotal. In her review Anne says,

“I’m pleased to say that Richard Crisp’s highly accessible overview of recent research into cultural diversity has not only revitalised my interest in social psychology but is highly relevant to how we all live today. I touched on one of his papers in my recent post on Looking at difference, embracing diversityThe Social Brain develops those ideas in more depth and detail.

social brain

I am compelled to add my voice to Anne’s recommendation. It is a fascinating, challenging and enlightening read.

In a comment on her post, Charli stated that diversity is in the small things, not just the big. I believe she is right. It is the attitudes and actions we incorporate into our everyday lives that can make the big difference in another’s world. I’m sticking to my tooth theme for my flash with a wish for recognition of commonality, acceptance and respect. Richard Crisp’s book goes a long way towards helping understand what drives us, and why.

A friendship born

The invisible wall was a fortress built of fear and prejudice. On either side a child played alone. The rules were accepted without question.

Then they saw each other, and a challenge was born.

At first they kept their distance, staring across the divide, until scolding adults bustled them away.

Curiosity and loneliness won over fear as they mirrored each other in play.

One day they drew close enough to touch, but hesitated. Simultaneously they bared their teeth, each proudly displaying a gap, in the middle on the bottom, a first. Surprised, they laughed together: more same than different.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

46 thoughts on “A tooth for a tooth

  1. Corinne Rodrigues

    I love all that you put into this, Norah. I live in India and we don’t have the tooth fairy tradition – at least, not culturally, as far as I know. However, my mother kept two of my ‘milk teeth’ when they fell, becuase she said they were so tiny! (Gross!) I wonder where they are now.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Corinne, Thank you for popping over and leaving a comment. I just had a quick look through the book to see if anything was listed for India, and it says, ” I throw my tooth on the roof and ask the sparrow to bring me a new one.” I guess as India is a pretty big place, with a large population, there wouldn’t be just one tradition for all. My Hub kept my daughter’s teeth. He has them still (she’s an adult) and recently showed them to grandson (his aunt’s teeth). Gross indeed!

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  2. roweeee

    Norah, how I would’ve loved having you as a teacher! It would have been so special to have your little teeth dressed up as a fairy to take home. I was a teacher’s aide in my son’s classroom when he was in kindergarten and photographed the kids for the year. I just loved those gappy smiles and took a few shots where I really zoomed in and to be honest, they really did look pretty awful as well. Both of my kids are young for their school year so had to wait that bit longer and during kindergarten to year 2, losing teeth seemed to be the big topic of conversation. It was an enchanting stage where mine still believed in all the unbelievables and yet we’re growing up.
    That book sounds great and I’ll try to mention it to the school.
    I’m getting a book, which may interest you. It was written up in the Good Weekend last weekend: Joshua Yeldham: “Surrender: A Journal for My Daughter.” He’s an artist who endured bullying etc and came from a fascinating family. The book includes sketches etc. My mum said she’d get it for me. I’ll keep you posted.
    xx Rowena

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Rowena. They are much appreciated. You are right about those gappy grins. They are very cute. But when the new teeth start to come in and seem to be all too big for the little mouths, they have something of the awkwardness of the teenage years about them. All a part of growing up though, and endearing in their own way.
      Yeldham’s book sounds interesting. I look forward to receiving a report. xx

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  3. Sherri

    I’ve learnt something here Norah – but then I always do with your posts! I thought everyone put their teeth under a pillow but I see not reading through the great comments here. I remember the thrill of finding a shiny new sixpence in place of my tooth as a child and with my children, it was an American quarter 🙂 Except the Tooth Fairy in our house often forget…but with helpful reminders, made sure to put things right as soon as possible 😉 Another wonderful flash Norah, proving how something as seemingly unimportant as a toothless gap can actually be very powerful indeed when it comes to smiles and friendship 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing your “tooth” traditions. It’s interesting how many times the forgetful Tooth Fairy has been mentioned. Now that could make for an interesting story I think. Might have to chew over it for a while! 🙂
      I’m pleased the flash worked. It was a struggle to make it fit. Sometimes they come more easily than others, but none of them are easy. It’s great to have the challenge though. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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  4. Roe Kitchin

    I’m amazed you found time to cook dinner tonight Norah with all these posts to read and reply to!

    To all in Norah’s community, trust me, she was (and still is) an exceptional teacher!

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Surprise, surprise! I didn’t cook dinner! 🙂 Reading and replying does keep me busy. But I love it. Thank you for adding to my work load. 🙂
      And thank you for your lovely vote of confidence! 🙂

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  5. stuckinscared

    Lovely post, Norah. I love that you made little tooth fairy wraps for your students to carry their teeth home in. What a special teacher! I wonder how many of those kiddies have passed on the story of ‘Teacher and the toothfairy’.

    I loved the flash. You have a knack of taking a reader right to the edge of the scene.

    P.S, The tooth fairy sometimes forgets (is too busy) in our house too. There have been teeth that have taken 3 nights to get to. In her defence though…she always gets there in the end 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Kimmie. I guess it’s understandable that the Tooth Fairy forgets sometimes. With all those children in the world losing their teeth at the same time it must get rather hectic at times! 🙂
      I thank you too for your kind words regarding my flash. I’m pleased it worked.

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  6. jennypellett

    That’s a lovely flash, Norah – very vivid, especially the end sentence.
    I ghoulishly kept all my son’s first teeth in a little velvet box…I found them the other day and showed him (he’s now 25) and he just laughed and said ‘why?’ I put them back…

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jenny. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash.
      Interesting that you kept your son’s first teeth. Hub kept my daughter’s teeth; but not in a velvet box, in a cardboard jewelry box wrapped in cotton wool. When my grandson’s first tooth was wiggly, Hub got out the teeth and showed him. I thought it was rather ghoulish (showing the grandson, not keeping them!) I’m not sure that grandson found his aunt’s baby teeth all that interesting. Funny that your son wasn’t interested in his teeth. I kept so many momento of my children that they are not the least bit interested in. 😦

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  7. Charli Mills

    When you were in the classroom, you helped shape stories those children would grow up and remember (the teacher who made them the tooth fairy tissue holder for a lost tooth). Now that you are a grandmother you can help search out other traditions. I like that cycle! We exchanged quarters for lost teeth with our kids. Really sharp writing for your flash, Norah! I love the gappy grin ending.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for seeing the cycle, Charli. It’s growth and learning, I guess. I like it.
      Thank you for sharing how you responded to your children’s lost teeth. Quarters – we don’t have them here. it’s interesting how you have names for your coins and we just have their value.
      I’m pleased the flash was successful. I always worry about leaving too many gaps! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Charli Mills

        Interesting reflection on leaving too many gaps. I think gaps in fiction help invite readers to imagine. That’s my penny’s worth of thought (one-cent). 🙂 I didn’t realize we named our coins in the US but we do! Nickels, dimes, pennies, quarters, and even silver eagles, though those are old.

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  8. Bec

    I love your FF! And the information about the baby teeth traditions, and of course any reason to think about ‘Whoever You Are’ is lovely. Thanks for the great post! I hope there are many stories of kids finding their common ground across the world where we are so divided by the bigotry of adults.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Bec. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post. I think a peaceful future depends upon allowing children to accept each other with all their similarities and differences.

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  9. roughwighting

    What a great post, and a wonderful blog you have here! My little 6 year old grandson just ‘lost’ his first tooth also. It was quite exciting to him, since his older (by 11 months) sister has already lost 4!! I love the little tissue fairy holder you made for your students! I’m going to buy some of the tooth fairy books you suggest here – can’t wait to read them to my grandkids. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for popping over to my blog and leaving such a lovely comment, Pam. Losing their baby teeth is such a mark of growing up. As wonderful as it is to watch them grow, I miss these young years too. I hope you enjoy the stories with your grandchildren. 🙂

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  10. thecontentedcrafter

    My childhood was not one that celebrated momentous events in children’s lives and I heard about the tooth fairy at school but she never visited me. I think my lost teeth were just disposed of. I made sure my children were celebrated at every possibility – even if sometimes I had to make up the tradition myself. 🙂 Nowadays, from my perspective of understanding child development, I would caution any parent who is debating injecting adult consciousness onto children’s imaginative traditions, to let their children believe until they decide they are ready to let it go. I would go even further, and suggest that parents throw themselves wholeheartedly into telling the stories and observing the wonder in their children’s faces – what they are seeing is the first precursor of the development of love for the wonderfulness and magic of life and the world, which we should never lose, not even as an adult.

    I have to say I’m totally with you on regretting I was not aware enough to investigate more widely the traditions of the world when I was teaching – it is a good thing that is coming out of globalisation I think – we are a little less insular nowadays.

    Lovely little story Norah!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing so much in your lovely comment, Pauline. I wish you had been involved in earlier discussions about Santa Claus. I think you would have contributed much. 🙂
      Did you ever wonder why the Tooth Fairy didn’t visit you? Did you ask your parents, and did they have an answer?
      I love the way you celebrated every possible occasion with your children, beginning your own traditions when necessary. Traditions have to start somewhere, why not with us? They can be of our choosing and suit our beliefs.
      I agree with you about maintaining a sense of wonder. How incredibly boring life would be without it.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. Thank you. 🙂

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  11. TanGental

    Mine was an empty matchbox that took the tooth. It was placed at the top of the stairs so not easily missed. I can’t remember if it was a thrupenny bit or six pence for me. Neat flash, Norah. Like it a lot.

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. roweeee

      Geoff, I haven’t heard of the matchbox before but I like that and it being left out to remind the forgetful fairy. We had one of those here a few times. Must have found a few teeth soaking in something stronger than water!
      xx Ro

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  12. Lisa Reiter

    O! That’s so lovely. We can all see the grin 😀
    It’s really fascinating to review such simple little customs – they’re so big and important to the child which is why we have ended up marking this one across cultures.
    I love your tissue tooth fairy to get a tooth home safely from school. What a gorgeous idea. Max’s came home in envelopes – altogether more boring but still valued currency under a pillow. I remember him contriving a whole explanation about lazy tooth fairies the second time we forgot the monetary exchange!! Lol and after being discovered as the Easter Bunny, it being demanded ” I suppose you’re the Footh Fairy as well?!” Father Christmas followed the breath after that and then the tears 😞

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Lisa. It is a “simple little custom”. I’m pleased someone noticed it and decided to bring it to our attention. The different traditions are incredibly diverse and interesting.
      Envelopes! What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that? It also gives me a great idea for a Tooth Fairy envelope product. Must tell a friend who is looking for products for her website. Thanks.
      Lazy Tooth Fairies indeed! I hope they smartened up after that. 🙂
      Oh dear! It can be so sad finding out that all those treasures are simply myths. Sounds like you may have been the “bad” parent there like I was! We can both go into the naughty corner. Imagine what we could get up to together! 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          🙂
          Sadly, I do think some offices have the equivalent of naughty corners. Some people never realise the limiting effect they have on others. A little bit of learning would go a long way.

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  13. Annecdotist

    What a lovely flash, Norah, and thanks for the mention – glad you’re enjoying getting acquainted with Richard Crisp.
    Looking at Sacha’s response (tooth under the pillow exchanged for a sixpence in my day) suggests that this also might have been an interesting topic for Irene’s social history project.
    I’ve found the missing tooth a useful signal in my fiction for identifying a young child’s approximate age, although I think I’d forgotten the lower teeth go first.
    I love the tooth fairy you made for the kids to take the tooth home.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Anne. The flash was a struggle. As always. Year one teachers tend to repeat themselves and like to make everything explicit! 🙂
      Maybe Irene will choose lost teeth as a topic. I haven’t joined in her challenge. I would love to do so, but couldn’t afford the time at the moment. While the bottom two teeth are usually the first to go, maybe there are individual differences; and maybe not all your readers remember which go first either. Have I read that story? I can’t bring it to mind at the moment.
      I thought the tissue Tooth Fairy looked a bit creepy in the photo, but the children always liked it! 🙂

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  14. Sacha Black

    cool book, love kids books that look at different traditions, partly because I always learn something! haha. I was a tooth under the pillow kind of girl and a gold nugget (one pound coin) left in its place. Or, more like 50p!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Yeah. What a neat idea writing a book about that. Stories are everywhere. You just have to see them! 🙂 A gold nugget. You must have been a Tooth Fairy favourite! Will you continue the tradition with your little one? What will happen when there are no more coins? Arrgh! The Tooth Fairy might be out of business in a cashless society! 😦

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      1. Steven

        I was going to interject with a sentence indicating the Tooth Fairy probably has access to iTunes and Play Store cards as well, then I thought that even the lower values of these were a bit too rich. So I re-read “cashless” and thought the Tooth Fairy would have a bank account and would simply transfer a small credit instead. So I took the amusement further and did a Google search for “Tooth Fairy Bank Account”, only to find this interesting article, entitled “So Long, Tooth Fairy, Parents Are Banking Kids’ Baby Teeth”: http://www.parenting.com/news-break/so-long-tooth-fairy-parents-are-banking-kids-baby-teeth

        My son lost his first tooth while blowing through a water whistle instrument in the bath. The tooth must have made its way into the bath water, but the loss was not realised until after the bath water had been let out. It was nowhere to be found in the empty bath tub, so it must have went down the drain. The Tooth Fairy still came, delivering a one dollar coin I think.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for your interjection, Steven. What a fascinating article that is! Isn’t it amazing how useful everything can be? The discoveries made by scientists! I hadn’t heard this one before. It’s a good thing you weren’t “banking” on using your son’s first tooth in that way. I dread the commotion its loss would have caused! 🙂 The Tooth Fairy is very considerate like that, isn’t she? It’s a good thing! Thanks for sharing the article and your story.

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