Only we capitalists could come up with such story: a fairy who pays cold, hard cash for human teeth.

In ancient Europe, they would simply bury the teeth. But in 18th century France, a story appears in which a good queen hires a mouse to hide under a bad king’s pillow and to knock out all of his teeth when he is asleep. From there, the story has been somewhat transformed.

Today in Spanish speaking countries, we have a tooth mouse named Ratoncito Pérez, who makes the occasional appearance in Colgate commercials. He replaces the tooth for candy or money.

In Italy the topino (little mouse) often replaces the Fatina (Tooth Fairy). French children also get visits from the tooth mouse, or La Petite Souris. But in lowland Scotland, he outsources to a “fairy rat” to do his rounds for him.

In Greece, kids throw their milk teeth at the roof. They then recite a little rhyme which comes out to something like, “Take sow my tooth and give me an iron one so that I can chew rusks.” In some regions of Greece, it is a mouse not a sow which is invoked.

There is no Tooth Fairy in Germany – kids instead collect their teeth in a container called a Zahndose.

Filipino children bury their teeth in order to make a wish.

Turkish children don’t bury their teeth—their parents do.

Chilean and Costa Rican kids get their teeth made into a charm.

In Japan, kids throw their teeth straight down and up into the air as a request for straight teeth (depending on bottom or top jaw). In other parts of Asia, children either throw their teeth at the roof or in the spaces in the floor and shout out a request that they will have teeth like a mouse that will keep growing all their life.

I don’t get that one either. But who am I to question Wikipedia?

So why are teeth so valuable in our culture? Why are we are instructed to put those precious pearls under our pillows so that we can trade them in for hard currency. And furthermore, for something to be valuable, there has to be demand. Has anyone thought of that? Are there others out there vying for a place in the market, which the Tooth Fairy has clearly monopolized? Some Cavity Gnome or Incisor Elf we’ve never heard of?

And why only baby teeth? Why can’t the guy who just got his head bashed in during a boxing match cash in to help ease the pain?

Is the Tooth Fairy really female? What’s the going rate? And furthermore, what does the Tooth Fairy DO with all those baby teeth once purchased?

This last question – this question of motivation – is a major weakness in the whole story, in my opinion. When the question was posed to me by the mother of one of my daughter’s friends who just lost a tooth, I was stymied when I realized that I had no idea.

I did some research.

The two most popular reasons available on the Internet are as follows:

1. The Tooth Fairy uses the teeth she collects as building materials for her castle.
2. The Tooth Fairy throws the teeth into the air, where they become stars.

Now, I’m no architect, but it seems to me the first explanation is a bit problematic. First of all, think about the constant struggle of keeping those teeth from rotting out from bacteria. Does she live in an arid climate? Does she need to scrub the walls down daily with toothpaste? Does she file down the roots to make them fit? Building an entire edifice out of teeth just seems impractical. If she’s got an endless supply of small bills – and it would seem she does – then why not invest in specially formulated concrete or stone, selected for longevity.

And that’s not even touching on the “creepiness factor” of the whole project, which shadows Howard Hughes in his crazy years by a long shot. It sort of reminds me of that church in the Czech Republic that is decorated entirely with human bones that the monks dug up during some plague.

And as for the star theory, that just seems like a good way to misinform children about the awesome nature of our universe.

“The stars? No, they’re not in fact giant suns, each potentially hosting an entire galaxy complete with planets and possibly even life. They’re, uh, molars. Yep.”

I decided to ask around to some of my friends to find out how pervasive these theories actually were, since I had never heard of them. Here is a sampling of some of the answers I got:

Grinds them down to make fairy dust. Duh.
-Kimberly Wetherell

Where do you think tooth “paste” comes from?
-Scott Archer

She makes really frightening jewelry and sells it on eBay.
-Kirstin Orwig

The tooth fairy has a giant mouth the size of New Hampshire where you can find all the teeth of the world. She sits on the dark side of Mercury chomping on rocks.
-NL Belardes

The Tooth Fairy likes to collect teeth in an elaborate filing system. Each kid has his own drawer labeled with his full name. The Tooth Fairy is a librarian with an acute case of OCD.
-Found on a random blog

The tooth fairy grinds up those teeth, turns them into a fine dust, then uses that dust to powder the long flowing cape of the ghost of Bruce Lee. Then again, maybe the tooth fairy just turns in those teeth with her other recyclables and is able to make another few extra bucks.
-Richard Ferguson

She puts them in random places and when she finds them wonders why she didn’t date the baggie or envelope and now wonders if they are really worth keeping, and then realizes it’s kinda gross to have all these teeth, but can’t bring herself to throw them away.
-Sarah Kimmett

All teeth go to heaven, where they will be reunited gloriously one day with their loving masters.
-James Michael Blaine

The tooth fairy doesn’t have teeth of her own. Since she’s small, she can only use baby teeth for her own dentures, which have to constantly be replaced.
-Anonymous

And my personal favorite:

She breaks them in half and feeds them to the sugar bugs.
Alexandra Pavlidis (age 4) – this was after a lecture from the dentist about brushing so that the “sugar bugs” don’t eat her teeth.

First off – I am thankful that nobody but two people seemed to know about the castle and the stars.  But secondly, I’m all for traditions and folklore, but it seems to me that we have a few weaknesses in our Tooth Fairy story. As a culture, we collectively need to get our story straight.

So what do YOU think the TF does with all those teeth?