Blending Baby Teeth Traditions
When I was a little girl growing up in Guatemala I would leave my baby teeth under my pillow for the Ratoncito (little mouse) to come and take them during the night and leave me money. My oldest daughter, Ariane, lost her first tooth soon after her 6th birthday and to tell you the truth it cought us a bit by surprise. I’m sure that as many other moms I just refused to believe my little girl was growing up so fast. We had a couple of books that talked about the tooth fairy but we also had an Argentinean movie about the Ratoncito Perez and his adventures collecting baby teeth from children, which she loved watching when she was younger. So when it was time to leave her tooth under the pillow and she asked what would happen to it I answered it would be a surprise. That would give my husband and I some time to decide who would get the important job of safely keeping baby teeth in our family: The Toot Fairy or the Ratoncito.
Every family is unique and we believe in blending traditions and making them our own. I love the idea of the Ratoncito and I know all of my daughter’s friends believe in the Tooth Fairy so we decided to have them both share this important job. The next morning Ariane woke up to find her tooth was gone and it had been replaced by two books one in English and one in Spanish and by two notes one written in English by the Tooth Fairy and the other written in Spanish by the little mouse. She was so excited when she found two presents and she was especially happy about the Ratoncito’s gift because her friends don’t get a visit from him.
That made me realize how lucky our kids are to have such a rich cultural background and two languages and it really illustrates how being bicultural and bilingual enriches the lives of children and opens them up to appreciate and value diversity. We love our new family tradition where both The Tooth Fairy and El Ratoncito visit our children and always bring books in their own language to leave under the pillow instead of money. The Tooth Fairy and The Ratoncito share the tooth, they both play an important part in sharing their own culture (two sides of my daughter’s heritage) and encourage my kids to read in two languages by bringing books which in most occasions have some culturally rich or traditional story from each culture.
Most cultures have some sort of tradition regarding the disposal of baby teeth. In the Middle Ages it was believed that witches could control you if they had a piece of you (hair, clothing, or teeth) with which to work their magic with. Many cultures believe that when a person dies it is important to bury them complete (lost teeth and all) so some cultures threw their teeth in the fire so that whoever was in charge of burying them would not do so without their baby teeth.
Baby Teeth Traditions in North America
The Tooth Fairy tradition was brought to the United States by English immigrants and it is shared with other countries with similar ethnic background.
American Indian tribes each have their own different tradition regarding baby teeth:
- The Chippewas paint the tooth black using charcoal and then throw it to the west while asking the child’s grandmother to help the permanent tooth to grow in strong.
- The Cherokee Indian children run around the house with the lost tooth and then throw it on the roof while reciting this phrase four times: “Beaver, put a new tooth in my jaw!”
- Navajo Indian children take their tooth to the southeast, away from their house. They bury the tooth on the east side (the east is associated with childhood) of a sagebrush, rabbitbrush, or pinyon tree.
- Teton Indian children bury their tooth in the dirt at the entrance to house. Anyone who walks over the spot where the tooth is buried is said to grow a new tooth.
- Shuswap and Yupik Indian kids mix their lost tooth with meat and feed it to a dog asking the dog to, “Make my teeth strong.”
- The Dene Yellowknives children give the lost tooth to their mother or grandmother who puts it in a tree around witch the family dances so that the new tooth comes in straight as a tree.
Baby Teeth Traditions in Latin America
In Latin America most countries believe that baby teeth are taken by a little mouse. This belief originates in Spain where the little mouse, called Ratoncito Perez, takes baby teeth left under the pillow leaving money or candy behind. In Argentina children leave their tooth in a glass of water and El Ratoncito will drink the water, take the tooth, and then leave some coins or candy in the empty glass. In Colombia the little mouse’s name is El Raton Miguelito. In Mexico, children leave their tooth in a special box on their nightstand with the hope that El Raton will exchange the tooth for money. Front teeth are more valuable than any other teeth. In El Salvador a rabbit, not a mouse, is responsible for taking baby teeth from under the pillow and leaving children money.
Many Latin American cultures see baby teeth as a symbol of the passage from childhood into adulthood and preserve it. In Chile and Cost Rica the first baby tooth is sometimes plated in gold or other precious metal and used as a charm in a necklace or bracelet or as an earring .
Many countries share the same tradition and there are also countries that have many different traditions regarding baby teeth and each family has their own different way of carrying out these traditions or blending them with others, like ours.
What about your family? I am certain that I have not listed all of the traditions regarding baby teeth and would love to hear about your family’s lost tooth traditions!
Sources: Many of these traditions where obtained from the wonderful book ” Throw Your Tooth on the Roof : Tooth Traditions from Around the World.”