In early Europe, it was a tradition to bury baby teeth that fell out. This combination of ancient international traditions has evolved into one that is distinct Anglo-Saxon and Latin American cultures among others.
Tooth tradition is present in several western cultures under different names. For example, in Spanish-speaking countries, this character is called Ratoncito Pérez, a little mouse with a common surname, or just “ratón de los dientes” (tooth mouse). The “Ratoncito Pérez” character was created around 1894 by the priest Luis Coloma (1851–1915), later a member of the Real Academia Española. The Crown asked Coloma to write a tale for the eight-year old Alfonso XIII, as one of his teeth had fallen out. A Ratón Pérez appeared in the tale of the Vain Little Mouse. The Ratoncito Pérez was used by Colgate marketing in Venezuela and Spain.
In Italy also the Tooth Fairy (Fatina) is often replaced by a small mouse (topino). In France, this character is called La Petite Souris (“The Little Mouse”). From parts of Lowland Scotland comes a tradition similar to the fairy mouse: a white fairy rat which purchases the teeth with coins.
In some Asian countries, such as India, Korea and Vietnam, when a child loses a tooth the usual custom is that he or she should throw it onto the roof if it came from the lower jaw, or into the space beneath the floor if it came from the upper jaw. While doing this, the child shouts a request for the tooth to be replaced with the tooth of a mouse. This tradition is based on the fact that the teeth of mice go on growing for their whole life, a characteristic of all rodents. In Japan, a different variation calls for lost upper teeth to be thrown straight down to the ground and lower teeth straight up into the air; the idea is that incoming teeth will grow in straight.
In parts of India, young children offer their discarded baby tooth to the sun, sometimes wrapped in a tiny rag of cotton turf[clarification needed].
The Tooth Fairy is less common in African cultures.
Rosemary Wells, a former professor at the Northwestern University Dental School, found evidence that supports the origin of different tooth fairies in the United States around 1900. Folklorist Tad Tuleja suggests postwar affluence, a child-directed family culture, and media turned the myth into a custom. The Tooth Fairy, a three-act playlet for children by Esther Watkins Arnold, was published in 1927. On May 28, 1938, MGM released The Little Rascals short entitled, The Awful Tooth, in which the gang agreed to pull their teeth out to make money from the tooth fairy. A reference in American literature appears in the 1949 book, “The Tooth Fairy” by Lee Rothgow. Dr. Wells created a Tooth Fairy Museum in 1993 in her Deerfield, Illinois museum. In a March 1961 Peanuts strip, the new character Frieda asks if the prices are set by the American Dental Society. The Tooth Fairy has appeared in several children’s books, an adult book, and films, and the eponymous radio series.
A somewhat similar practice is found in Guatemala, where worry dolls are told a worry by children and placed under their pillow. During the night the doll is believed to worry so that the child can sleep, and sometimes to actually address or resolve the worry. As with the tooth fairy, parents may remove the doll at night to reinforce the child’s belief in the myth.