The Tooth Fairy: Fun Fantasy, or Damaging Fallacy?

Your little one just lost a tooth, so you know what that means! It’s time to bring to life one of the most beloved white lies in a parent’s playbook: the tooth fairy. But as you convince your unsuspecting kid to place their tiny incisor into a bag and slide it under their pillow, a curiosity crosses your mind — is the Tooth Fairy harmful to kids? We get caught up in crafting elaborate worlds for these whimsical non-truths to live, but could selling this sort of fantasy to our children be damaging for them in the long run?

Recently, after my 7-year-old lost another tooth, the Tooth Fairy inexplicably didn’t show up to claim her enameled prize (gasp!). Let it be said the Tooth Fairy always shows up in our house, leaving glittery notes in swirly, twirly writing and bestowing upon the tooth-loser “Tooth Fairy bucks” to be used for things like a movie date or a new book. And yes, it’s me. I’m the Tooth Fairy.

So, when I fell asleep that ill-fated night before breaking out the glitter pens and sparkly stationery, the next morning meant going into recovery mode. This led to what is either one of my finest or worst parenting moments (jury’s still out): I created an email address for the Tooth Fairy, complete with photo signature, to send an “I’m sorry” message to my daughter via my own email. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, eh?

In that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder what my daughter will think once she finds out the lengths I went to in order to keep this mythic white lie alive for her. Would she feel loved, because her mama wanted her to believe in something magical a little longer? Or would she feel betrayed because, well, I’d been lying to her all along? Like, a lot.

To find out, I asked mental health professionals (and a dentist, too) to share their expert insight on the tradition of the Tooth Fairy. And like so many things about parenting, this conversation isn’t exactly cut and dry. Here are the top four attitudes towards that whole Tooth Fairy tale.

It’s okay, but really think it through.

Haley Neidich, a licensed mental health professional and practicing psychotherapist, doesn’t necessarily think the Tooth Fairy is damaging. She does, however, think that perhaps parents need to put a bit more consideration into whether they really want to be perpetuating this myth with their kids.

“While I don’t believe that the Tooth Fairy is harmful, I do think that parents should be thinking through the decision to lie to their kids rather than blindly going along with the status quo,” Neidich told She Knows. “Our jobs as parents is to build a rock-solid relationship with our children wherein there is a mutual trust. While lying to our kids about the Tooth Fairy is unlikely to cause damage, it may alter your child’s sense of your relationship when they learn the truth later on.”

Knowing when to let go of it is crucial.

If you do decide to play along with the Tooth Fairy in your home, be prepared to give it up when your child is ready… not when you’re ready. “While I’m not a fan of lying to children, I don’t believe that they always need all the information. Whether or not your family chooses to participate in the whole Tooth Fairy myth, it’s important that their children can trust their parents to guide them in the truth,” explained certified mental health consultant and family care specialist Claire Barber.

This means you need to listen to your child and be ready to have honest conversations along the way. “Fantasy and imagination are great as long as children know what is real and what isn’t. Let them be your guide. If and when they ask, tell them the truth,” said Barber. “There will be many things that you say and do as parents that will upset your children. The most important point is that you are honest and help them through their disappointment.”

It’s totally fine, and parents need to relax.

Forrest Talley of Invictus Psychological Services insists the Tooth Fairy myth is harmless — and that parents stressing out over it is more of a problem with today’s parenting culture than the myth itself.

“As a clinical psychologist, I’ve worked with thousands (literally) of children, teens and parents during the past thirty years. We now live in an age of ‘uber anxious parenting.’ Mothers and fathers feel guilty and worry about the impact of missing their child’s soccer game; not attending an open house at school; failing to drop everything and listen to their child’s request (often made by interrupting an adult’s conversation); and so forth,” said Talley. “Anxiety hangs about like a tiresome house guest that observes all, criticizes much and likes nothing.”

He continued, “Into the mix comes the innocuous Tooth Fairy. People wonder if they engage in this playful shame will their child then, upon learning the truth, become distrustful, broken-hearted, jaded or a lifelong curmudgeon. I say relax. If you want to pretend there is a Tooth Fairy, go for it. Your child will be fine. He or she will easily work through the fact that — for purposes of making the fear of losing a tooth a little less distressing — you introduced the Tooth Fairy idea.”

According to Talley, you should think of the Tooth Fairy myth as simply another part of life that your child will ultimately just adapt to. “Anxious parents overthink the consequences, nearly all children just shrug their shoulders and roll with the new reality of learning the Tooth Fairy is a myth,” he said, adding, “There’s a reason that psychology journals lack any research on the trauma created by the Tooth Fairy con job. There is no trauma. Parents need to enjoy the fun involved and not read too much into this harmless tradition.”

It can be a helpful tool.

Last but not least, we asked someone who most certainly has strong opinions on the subject: a real-life Tooth Fairy. “I feel that we should allow children to believe in the Tooth Fairy for several reasons,” shared pediatric dental hygienist and oral health writer Kelly Hancock. “Not only does it create joy for the child, but it’s also a great motivator.”

Plus, the myth of the Tooth Fairy can actually be instrumental in preventing early dental issues, says Hancock. “Every day in my job, I see the struggle that so many children have with not wanting to take their baby teeth out. The fear of possible pain when pulling out a baby tooth causes many children to try to hang on to their teeth. When a child holds on to a loose baby tooth too long, it can cause several dental problems. It can cause alignment issues, gum irritation and cavities due to poor oral hygiene around those loose baby teeth,” she shared.

So, the Tooth Fairy is fun for kids and can be legitimately good for them where dental health is concerned. “Many times, using the Tooth Fairy as a reward system works well to motivate the child to pull out their loose baby tooth. The joy a child gives off when eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Tooth Fairy is so special,” Hancock emphasized. “I say let kids be kids and let them believe in something magical.”

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