The tooth fairy is the concept of a fairy which gives a child a gift in exchange for a tooth that has come out. A child typically leaves the tooth under their pillow for the fairy to take while they sleep. The tooth fairy then adds the tooth to a special part of her all-white tooth castle in the sky. The tooth fairy, unlike many other types of fairies, is female, and the size of a human with short stature. The myth in this form is practiced in the US, Ireland, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and the UK.
This combination of ancient international traditions has evolved into one that is distinct Anglosaxon 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), a member of the Real Academia Española since 1908. 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 substituted 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 Korea, Vietnam and India, 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.
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 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, 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.
More comedic versions on the theme include the 1997 TV movie Toothless, in which Kirstie Alley plays a dentist who reluctantly becomes a tooth fairy, and the to-be-released Tooth Fairy, starring The Rock.
In 1991, Lacewood Productions produced a 24-minute children's animated short, entitled Tooth Fairy, Where Are You?, where an unofficial tooth fairy-in-training is discovered by a girl as her tooth is collected. The two became friends and are sad when they must part when the fairy becomes "official".
English comedian Alan Carr named his tour "Tooth fairy" on behalf of his protruding teeth.
In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, tooth fairies are depicted as small, ravenous creatures with a taste for calcium. They will eat humans alive, starting with the teeth, to get to the bones.