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"Tooth Tales from Around the World"

Share Students can brush up on dental history and learn about the origin of the tooth fairy in a new book from Charlesbridge Publishing. Author Marlene Targ Brill shares some of history's strange beliefs about teeth. Perfect for Dental Health Month, "Tooth Tales" serves up the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth! Included: Web sites for building Dental Health Month lessons!

Tooth Tales Book Cover Marlene Targ Brill spent years researching strange customs and beliefs about lost teeth. She enlisted the support of dentists and museum curators and teachers -- and the result is a fun little history book, Tooth Tales from Around the World (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1998), perfect for kids of all ages, especially those going through the lost-tooth stage.

The tooth fairy is a fun tradition in most American households, but in many parts of the world it's the tooth mouse that leaves treats behind for kids who've lost their baby teeth. Brill tells of the origin of the tooth fairy, the tooth mouse, tooth witches, and more. She traces the history of lost teeth back to the ancient Egyptians, who tossed their teeth to the sun because they believed the sun provided strong teeth. In those days -- when people didn't live so long, and before sugar and other tooth-attacking additives were around -- adult teeth often lasted a lifetime. Indeed, Brill tells readers, the connection between teeth and strength was rooted -- no pun intended -- in the fact that teeth stayed hard as stone even after a person died!

Among the beliefs Brill explores in this compact and beautifully illustrated tale of teeth beliefs:

  • Australian mothers were said to crush their children's baby teeth and eat the powder.
  • In parts of England, mothers at one time burned their children's baby teeth so that evil witches couldn't get their hands on them and gain control of the children.
  • In some parts of the world, a child's baby tooth would be placed in nests where rats or snakes were known to live because people believed evil witches disliked those animals and wouldn't go near them.
  • In many parts of the world, parents placed their children's teeth in mouse nests. They thought that would result in a new tooth growing in the lost tooth's place, just as a mouse's lost teeth somehow re-grew!
  • In other parts of the world, mothers hid their children's teeth from animals because, they believed, if an animal found the tooth, a tooth like that animal's would grow in the mouth of the child.

And so, you see, the customs and beliefs surrounding lost teeth are truly varied and interesting. Students will love hearing Brill's tooth tales -- especially during February, which is Dental Health Month!


After reading Tooth Tales from Around the World, young students might illustrate and write a sentence about their favorite "tooth tale." Older students might want to sink their teeth into the topic and do some research about the history of teeth, dentistry, and dental health. In any case, Tooth Tales is bound to bring about some "tooth wisdom" for kids too young to have wisdom teeth!


Following are a handful of websites related to dental health -- for teachers and for students of varying ages.

Teaching Tools
From the folks at Oral-B Laboratories come these classroom lessons for teaching about oral care. A lesson for students ages 5-8 and one for students 9-12.

Delta Dental's Kid's Club
This Kid's Club offers a dental trivia quiz that teaches, a "Plaque Attack" game, cartoons, a coloring page, and links for kids.

The Surprising George Washington
From the National Archives comes this bio of our first president. Includes interesting information about Washington's famous teeth. Turns out they weren't wooden teeth, as legend has it -- they were fashioned from hippopotamus tusk! Learn more about the president, and his teeth, at this site.

The Tooth Fairy Online
"Be true to your teeth or they'll be false to you" is the byline on this little site that includes oral health tips for kids and some other basic info. Also, learn the going price for a baby tooth!

Dental History on the Web
ADA's History of Dentistry
National Museum of Dentistry

Tooth Tales from Around the World, written by Marlene Targ Brill and illustrated by Katya Krenina, is available in both hardcover and paperback. If you are not able to locate a copy of the book in your local bookstore, ask your bookseller to order one for you. Or contact the publisher directly: Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02172. Phone: (617) 926-0329

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 02/08/1999
Links last updated 01/30/2007