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13 Facts About the Tooth Fairy

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Losing a tooth can be a scary experience, so it’s no surprise that parents throughout history have created rituals to celebrate this rite of passage. In the United States, children who leave a newly lost tooth under their pillow know to expect a nocturnal visit from the Tooth Fairy, who might leave a shiny quarter, a new toothbrush, or perhaps even a crisp $20 bill! But how did this tradition begin, and what is a tooth really worth? Here are 13 bite-sized facts about our favorite dainty dental dealer.

1. THE TOOTH FAIRY IS YOUNGER THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT.

Compared to the two other main figures in modern American mythology, the Tooth Fairy is definitely the new kid on the block. Santa Claus can be traced back to Saint Nicholas, born around 280 CE, and the Easter Bunny arrived in the United States with German immigrants during the 1700s, but the very earliest reference to the Tooth Fairy appears in a Chicago Daily Tribune "Household Hints" column from September 1908. Tribune reader Lillian Brown wrote in to suggest that "Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift." The story was further popularized by Esther Watkins Arnold’s 1927 play for children, The Tooth Fairy.

2. BUT CELEBRATING A LOST TOOTH IS A LONGSTANDING UNIVERSAL TRADITION.

While the specific concept of a fairy is recent, cultures around the world have been commemorating lost baby teeth for hundreds of years. In the 13th century, Islamic scholar Ibn Abi el-Hadid referenced the Middle Eastern tradition of throwing a baby tooth into the sky (or "to the sun") and praying for a better tooth to replace it. Throwing teeth is a common practice: in Turkey, Mexico, and Greece, children traditionally toss their baby teeth onto the roof of their house. In India, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, lower teeth are thrown upward but teeth from the upper jaw are thrown to the floor, to encourage the new adult teeth to grow straight. Traditions aren't always sunny, though—Norwegian and Finnish children are warned of Hammaspeikko, the "tooth troll" who comes for children who don’t brush.

3. EVEN THE VIKINGS PRIZED BABY TEETH.

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Think the Vikings were too busy pillaging to celebrate baby teeth? In fact, the Norse Eddas—myths, verse, and poetry from 13th century Scandinavia—make reference to the tand-fé ("tooth fee"), a small payment from parent to child to recognize the other side of the milestone—when an infant's first tooth came in. The ancient poem "Grimnismal" even notes that Alfheim, the "fairy world" in Norse mythology, was given to their god Frey as a "tooth gift" in his youth. According to various sources, some Viking warriors would later wear their children’s teeth as talismans, believing they’d bestow luck and protection in battle.

4. SOMETIMES THE FAIRY IS A MOUSE.

Many global baby-tooth traditions are tied to rodents. Psychiatrist and physician Leo Kanner’s 1928 study "Folklore of the Teeth" references children offering their lost baby teeth to mice, rats, squirrels, or other animals known to have sturdy teeth. In Spain, author Luis Coloma developed the character El Ratoncito Pérez as a Tooth Fairy analog for the boy-king Alfonso XIII. El Ratoncito Pérez is still popular in most Spanish-speaking countries today, and has even appeared in modern marketing campaigns for Colgate toothpaste. Likewise, in France and Belgium, children wait for La Petite Souris ("the little mouse") and leave him not only baby teeth, but morsels of cheese as well.

5. THE AVERAGE AMERICAN TOOTH IS CURRENTLY WORTH AROUND $3.19.

What’s a tooth worth? According to an annual survey conducted by Visa, 32 percent of children receive a single dollar, which is by far the most common amount. But 5 percent of children received $20 or more, bringing the nationwide average to $3.19 [PDF]. Unsurprisingly, the value of a tooth is tied not only to family income level, but geographic region—the Tooth Fairy tends to be more generous in the Northeast and stingier in the South and West. Confused about how much to give your sweet dreamer? Visa now provides a helpful calculator to check what other children in their demographic are receiving.

6. THE VALUE OF TEETH FLUCTUATES WITH THE MARKET.

Insurance group Delta Dental has also been tracking average Tooth Fairy rewards since 1998, and comparing their results to stock market activity. They've found that in 12 of the past 13 years, trends in Tooth Fairy payouts have correlated to movement in the S&P 500. Their study also notes that in 2015, the Tooth Fairy gave out a total of $256 million dollars—that’s a lot of teeth!

7. ROSEMARY WELLS WAS AMERICA’S FOREMOST TOOTH FAIRY EXPERT …

In the 1970s, Northwestern University professor Rosemary Wells realized that while the practice of replacing baby teeth with money was extremely popular, little was known about the origins of the Tooth Fairy. Wells took it upon herself to interview anthropologists, parents, and children; write a series of magazine articles exploring the roots of the character; and conduct a national survey of 2000 parents to learn more about families’ various traditions and interpretations. Her fascination with the topic even led to an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and she had her business cards labeled with "Tooth Fairy Consultant."

8. … AND SHE FOUNDED THE TOOTH FAIRY MUSEUM IN DEERFIELD, ILLINOIS.

Dr. Wells's Tooth Fairy research led to her amassing a sizable collection of memorabilia, and in 1993 she turned her split-level suburban home in Deerfield, IL into the Tooth Fairy Museum. A popular choice for local elementary school field trips, the museum contained art, dolls, books, and other memorabilia celebrating depictions of the Tooth Fairy across various cultures. The museum closed following Dr. Wells's death in 2000.

9. THE FAIRY CAN HELP PROMOTE HEALTHY HABITS.

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In addition to commemorating a milestone, many parents now use the Tooth Fairy as a means of promoting good dental hygiene from a young age. Vicki Lansky, author of more than two dozen parenting and household books, cleverly suggests, "Let your child know early on that the tooth fairy pays more for a perfect [tooth] than for a decayed one." Other parents have gotten creative with conditional gifts—like a note promising an extra $20 if the child brushed her teeth every day after lunch for a month.

10. NO ONE’S QUITE SURE WHAT THE TOOTH FAIRY LOOKS LIKE …

Unlike Santa, there isn’t a widely-held consensus on the Fairy’s appearance. Most cartoons and books depict a winged female sprite or pixie, much like Tinkerbell, bearing a wand and trailing sparkles in her wake. But Dr. Wells's 1984 survey found that while 74 percent of Americans viewed the Tooth Fairy as female, another 12 percent envisioned the Fairy as neither male nor female. Other responders gave less traditional answers: some imagined the Tooth Fairy as a bear, a bat, a dragon, or even "a potbellied, cigar smoking, jeans clad tiny flying male."

11. … WHICH MIGHT EXPLAIN A WIDE VARIETY OF CASTING CHOICES.

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The Tooth Fairy is a recurring character in modern cinema, and has been portrayed by a diverse assortment of actors and actresses. The 2010 comedy Tooth Fairy cast former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a bruising hockey star who is pressed into Fairy-duty; the 2012 straight-to-video sequel re-used the concept with comedian Larry the Cable Guy in the title role. Veteran actor Art LaFleur donned the wings for both The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3. Meanwhile, actress Isla Fisher voiced an animated (and extremely birdlike) version of the Tooth Fairy for the 2012 Golden-Globe nominated film Rise of the Guardians, while Amy Sedaris played a delightfully deranged version on the kiddie show Yo Gabba Gabba!

12. THE TOOTH FAIRY INSPIRED A PROMINENT SKEPTIC.

As a fictional character, you wouldn’t expect the Tooth Fairy to appear in many serious publications. But Dr. Harriet Hall, an Air Force flight surgeon, skeptic, and critic of alternative medicine, has coined the term "Tooth Fairy Science" to describe the importance of ensuring a phenomenon actually exists before studying it. Dr. Hall offers this fantastic example of how a carefully crafted experiment may still yield an invalid result:

If you don’t consider prior probability, you can end up doing what I call Tooth Fairy Science. You can study whether leaving the tooth in a baggie generates more Tooth Fairy money than leaving it wrapped in Kleenex. You can study the average money left for the first tooth versus the last tooth. You can correlate Tooth Fairy proceeds with parental income. You can get reliable data that are reproducible, consistent, and statistically significant. You think you have learned something about the Tooth Fairy. But you haven’t. Your data has another explanation, parental behavior, that you haven’t even considered. You have deceived yourself by trying to do research on something that doesn’t exist.

13. NATIONAL TOOTH FAIRY DAY IS FEBRUARY 28 (OR MAYBE AUGUST 22?)

According to no less an authority than www.toothfairy.org, National Tooth Fairy Day is celebrated annually on February 28. However, other sources and calendars also list the holiday on August 22. (With such a busy schedule, the Fairy surely deserves two days, right?) The second week of August is also recognized as National Smile Week (to promote dental health) so a follow-up celebration for the Tooth Fairy seems appropriate. (But the cynics among us might note that February 27 is Sword Swallower's Day [PDF], so perhaps the Fairy has some extra work to do.)

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Big Questions
Did Wilt Chamberlain Really Sleep With 20,000 Women?
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At 7'1", Wilt Chamberlain may have been the most dominating and amazing basketball player of all time. In his legendary career, Chamberlain scored 31,419 points, including the unbelievable time he actually scored 100 points in one game. He holds dozens of unbreakable basketball records.

In addition to his accomplishments on the court, Chamberlain also authored four books. None of the others created nearly the stir and controversy as his 1991 book, A View From Above. In it, the basketball great claimed to have slept with 20,000 different women during his life.

A media firestorm erupted, and Chamberlain was attacked from all sides. The country was at the height of the AIDS crisis, and activists criticized Wilt for his promiscuity. He also came under fire in African-American circles for promoting black racial stereotypes. And feminists resented his blatant sexism for using women in such a manner.

To Wilt's credit (I guess), he never backed down from his claim, never said he was just "bragging" or "stretching the truth." He simply stated: "I was just laying it out there for people who were curious."

Wilt was emphatic that he never went to bed with a married woman. "I was just doing what was natural—chasing good-looking ladies, whoever they were and wherever they were." But could he really sleep with 20,000 different women? Let's analyze it.

DOING THE MATH

If Wilt started at the age of 15, from then up to the age of 55 (when the book was published) he would have had 40 years to sleep with 20,000 women, or 500 different women a year—easy math.

That works out to roughly 1.4 women a day.

According to close friends, Wilt loved threesomes. According to legend, he was intimate with 23 different women on one 10-day road trip. Wilt was also a lifelong insomniac, sometimes just not sleeping at all. He probably would take a woman to bed any time he couldn't fall asleep.

But the time factor is an interesting point. A close childhood friend, Tom Fitzhugh, said, "I don't remember him having a date. He was probably a virgin when he left high school." So let us assume Wilt really started around the age of 18, which ups the average to 1.5 women per day for 37 years.

Additionally, he did have a six-month schedule, for 14 seasons, of playing professional basketball. That's 82 games a season, not including playoffs, exhibitions, practices, and travel time.

The fact that he said 20,000 different women also leaves little time for repeats, or love. And what about sickness? Everyone gets sick once in a while, which would have cost Wilt precious time during those 37 to 40 sexually active years.

But most incredibly, even with those reported 20,000 sexual liaisons, Wilt is not known to have contracted any serious sexually transmitted diseases. Nor was there ever a woman who came forward with an unplanned pregnancy, a "little Wilt," or a paternity suit.

And what about turndowns? Every guy in human history has been turned down by a woman at some point. One can only wonder at Wilt's rejections ... probably extremely few, to manage that 20,000 record.

In a 1999 interview, shortly before he died, Wilt made the following revealing statement:

"Having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I've learned in my life. I've (also) found out that having one woman a thousand different times is more satisfying."

So perhaps he made time for repeats after all.

Chamberlain died of heart failure in 1999 in Bel-Air, California, at the age of 63.

As a sidebar, Wilt was a huge hero of mine—my supreme basketball hero, as a kid and to this day. I wore Wilt's number 13 on my jersey as I ineptly played for my synagogue's basketball team. (I scored 18 points in 18 games, a nifty 1.0 scoring average.)

Many years later, I met "Wilt the Stilt" at a book-signing for the infamous A View From Above, and I even got to shake his hand. It was, far and away, the biggest hand I have ever seen (or shaken). He didn't just shake my hand—he engulfed it!

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History
9 Victims of King Tut's Curse (And One Who Should Have Been)
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When King Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered on November 26, 1922—after more than 3000 years of uninterrupted repose—some believed the pharaoh unleashed a powerful curse of death and destruction upon all who dared disturb his eternal slumber.

Like any urban legend or media sensation, the alleged curse grew to epic proportions over the years. Here are nine people who might make you believe in such things, and one who should have been a direct recipient of Tut's wrath but got off with nary a scratch.

1. GEORGE HERBERT, 5TH EARL OF CARNARVON

The man who financed the excavation of King Tut's tomb was the first to succumb to the supposed curse. Lord Carnarvon accidentally tore open a mosquito bite while shaving and ended up dying of blood poisoning shortly thereafter. This occurred a few months after the tomb was opened and a mere six weeks after the press started reporting on the "mummy's curse," which was thought to afflict anyone associated with disturbing the mummy. Legend has it that when Lord Carnarvon died, all of the lights in his house mysteriously went out.

2. SIR BRUCE INGHAM

Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb, gave a paperweight to his friend Ingham as a gift. The paperweight appropriately (or perhaps quite inappropriately) consisted of a mummified hand wearing a bracelet that was supposedly inscribed with the phrase, "cursed be he who moves my body." Ingham's house burned to the ground not long after receiving the gift, and when he tried to rebuild, it was hit with a flood.

3. GEORGE JAY GOULD

Gould was a wealthy American financier and railroad executive who visited the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1923 and fell sick almost immediately afterward. He never really recovered and died of a pneumonia a few months later.

4. AUBREY HERBERT

It's said that Lord Carnarvon's half-brother suffered from King Tut's curse merely by being related to him. Aubrey Herbert was born with a degenerative eye condition and became totally blind late in life. A doctor suggested that his rotten, infected teeth were somehow interfering with his vision, and Herbert had every single tooth pulled from his head in an effort to regain his sight. It didn't work. He did, however, die of sepsis as a result of the surgery, just five months after the death of his supposedly cursed brother.

5. HUGH EVELYN-WHITE

Evelyn-White, a British archaeologist, visited Tut's tomb and may have helped excavate the site. After seeing death sweep over about two dozen of his fellow excavators by 1924, Evelyn-White hung himself—but not before writing, allegedly in his own blood, "I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear."

6. AARON EMBER

American Egyptologist Aaron Ember was friends with many of the people who were present when the tomb was opened, including Lord Carnarvon. Ember died in 1926, when his house in Baltimore burned down less than an hour after he and his wife hosted a dinner party. He could have exited safely, but his wife encouraged him to save a manuscript he had been working on while she fetched their son. Sadly, they and the family's maid died in the catastrophe. The name of Ember's manuscript? The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

7. RICHARD BETHELL

Bethell was Lord Carnarvon's secretary and the first person behind Carter to enter the tomb. He died in 1929 under suspicious circumstances: He was found smothered in his room at an elite London gentlemen's club. Soon after, the Nottingham Post mused, "The suggestion that the Hon. Richard Bethell had come under the ‘curse’ was raised last year, when there was a series of mysterious fires at it home, where some of the priceless finds from Tutankhamen’s tomb were stored." No evidence of a connection between artifacts and Bethell's death was established, though.

8. SIR ARCHIBALD DOUGLAS REID

Proving that you didn't have to be one of the excavators or expedition backers to fall victim to the curse, Reid, a radiologist, merely x-rayed Tut before the mummy was given to museum authorities. He got sick the next day and was dead three days later.

9. JAMES HENRY BREASTED

Breasted, another famous Egyptologist of the day, was working with Carter when the tomb was opened. Shortly thereafter, he allegedly returned home to find that his pet canary had been eaten by a cobra—and the cobra was still occupying the cage. Since the cobra is a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy, and a motif that kings wore on their headdresses to represent protection, this was a rather ominous sign. Breasted himself didn't die until 1935, although his death did occur immediately after a trip to Egypt.

10. HOWARD CARTER

Carter never had a mysterious, inexplicable illness and his house never fell victim to any fiery disasters. He died of lymphoma at the age of 64. His tombstone even says, "May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness." Perhaps the pharaohs saw fit to spare him from their curse.

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