Does the Tooth Fairy Come to China?


Sophia lost her two top front teeth within three days of each other. New look aside, she was most excited about the impending visits by the Tooth Fairy. She didn’t seem concerned about whether the Tooth Fairy would make it all the way across the world. In fact, for her, the nighttime gift bringer who takes her tooth is some combination of the American Tooth Fairy and the Spanish Ratoncito Perez (Little Mouse Perez). Last summer she lost her second tooth when we were in Spain and received a visit from Mr. Perez, who left her with a few coins and some lip gloss.  Since then, she often sleeps with a stuffed Ratoncito Perez (who carries a stuffed tooth) and talks about both of them (I think she thinks of them in cahoots with one another, a little bit like the companionship in Rise of the Guardians). If it works for her, we’re fine keeping it vague.

While she was awake early on two mornings a week ago, eager to show us the small gifts and money she’d received under her pillow (since we are in China, after all, I picked up little hair items, gold nail polish, a wooden comb painted with a Chinese lady, etc.), Manu and I started asking around about what people do with their baby teeth in China. Sophia’s Chinese language teacher, who’s from Fujian Province, which is the closest Mainland China province to Taiwan, told me that when she lost her lower teeth, she buried them in the ground, while she threw her upper teeth onto the roof of her grandparents’ house. This is supposed to ensure that the adult teeth grow straight up/down.

I looked up different Chinese traditions on the internet and found that traditions varied (sometimes the lower teeth are placed on the roof and the upper teeth buried in the ground and sometimes instead of the roof and ground, the teeth are placed above and below the bed), the essential desired outcome is the same: get those big teeth to come in straight.

Since Manu spent last week in Lhasa, he asked around to find out what Tibetans do with their baby teeth. He found that, at least in Central Tibet, they wrap the tooth in a cloth, sometimes keeping it whole and sometimes crushing it, and then throw it on the roof while reciting the following wish:

Tibetan tooth wish

Tibetan tooth wish in Manu’s notebook

Don’t grow the tooth of a horse; Don’t grow the tooth of a donkey; May a tooth of a white sheep grow!

While I don’t know a lot about other baby teeth traditions around the world (you can check out an interesting blog post I found that begins to scratch the surface), I’m wondering if at least the Chinese and Tibetans are onto something with the focus on good looking adult teeth. Perhaps it’s no wonder, with our short sighted tooth-for-gift exchange, that so many Americans, in particular, end up needing braces!


3 responses »

  1. Have you heard anyone talk about babies stealing other babies’ teeth? Some nomads won’t let their children near others at certain times for fear of teeth swapping!

    • No, Chelsea, that’s new to me! I’d love to hear more, if you wouldn’t mind asking around. Is it fear of stealing teeth before or after they fall out? What are the supposed ramifications of stolen teeth? Do the nomads you’ve spoken with use that same wish poem, or do they do something else? Please let me know whatever you hear!

  2. I’m glad I came across this post, I teach English with VIPKID and one of my little Chinese students has 3 teeth missing! I was curious what they did with the teeth. Very interesting!

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