Losing baby teeth and having permanent adult teeth grow in is an important rite of passage for children. But what should you do with those tiny baby teeth when they fall out? Many families choose to ceremonially bury their child’s baby teeth as a way to celebrate this milestone. Here’s an in-depth look at the extensive history, cultural significance, spiritual meanings, and common practices around burying baby teeth across the globe.

A historical and anthropological perspective on buried teeth traditions

The practice of burying shed baby teeth likely has origins going back thousands of years. Examining the history and anthropology gives insight into the tradition’s cultural meaning.

1. Ancient rituals and folklore

Anthropologists have found evidence that in Celtic Iron Age Europe, children’s lost teeth were buried in special ceremonial pits, likely as part of a rite of passage. Germanic tribes throughout ancient Northern Europe who practiced Norse pagan rituals also have early records of burying children’s shed teeth for symbolic protection. Across many ancient agrarian cultures, burial of baby teeth was thought to spread seeds that would grow into a strong adult.

2. Early tooth fairy myths

Stories exist from ancient Greece, China, and Northern Europe about supernatural creatures exchanging baby teeth for rewards. These early folkloric myths evolved into the modern legend of the benevolent tooth fairy. This magical, mysterious lore helped reinforce the custom of burying lost teeth.

3. Spiritual connotations

In many indigenous cultures, from Native Americas to Aboriginal Australians, baby teeth were seen as holding one’s vital essence. Proper burial was crucial for spiritual protection. Shed women’s teeth also carried fertility associations. Some Asian traditions bury teeth to nourish the soil, reflecting spiritual ties between human life, nature, and the elements.

4. Marking adulthood

Communal ceremonies for adolescents losing baby teeth have been documented worldwide, from African tribes to Pacific Islanders. It represents graduating into new adult roles and responsibilities. Anthropologists believe the universal symbolism explains why so many cultures ritually bury shed baby teeth.

Baby tooth burial customs around the world

Baby tooth burial customs around the world

Here’s an in-depth look at some of the specific rituals for burying baby teeth practiced by certain cultures:

Japan

In Japan, the custom is called hamigaki and has been practiced for centuries. When a child’s baby tooth falls out, parents place it in a small decorative envelope along with some salt and a note thanking the tooth for the service it provided. The family then brings the envelope to a temple or shrine to reverently bury near the site while praying for the child’s safe passage into a new phase of maturity.

Korea

In South Korea, baby teeth traditionally get buried under the eaves of a house. It’s believed this placement brings good blessings and luck for the family and child. Sometimes the tooth gets wrapped in beans or seeds to wish for prosperity before placing it beneath the eaves.

Indonesia and Malaysia

Families in Indonesia and Malaysia bury the lost tooth with several significant objects. This includes seeds to grow an ubicall cord tree seen as symbolic of the child’s birth and roots. Items like a book, pendant, or toy represent the child’s interests and skills wished to be enhanced in adulthood. Prayers accompany the burial.

Mexico

Mexican traditions often involve wrapping the tooth in a cloth along with grains like rice or corn. It gets buried near a growing tree. The belief is the tooth will fertilize the soil to add years to the child’s life as the tree grows. A ceremony with songs and chants blesses the child’s rite of passage into maturity.

Greece

In older Greek culture, children threw their lost baby tooth onto the roof while expressing a wish. It was thought a storm would carry the tooth to Mount Olympus to the gods who would grant the wish in exchange. Today Greek children may still bury teeth wishing for gifts from the magical dragon who safeguards teeth.

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Scandinavia

Parents in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark commonly bury the tooth with a small charm or token representing the child’s talents to be enhanced into adulthood. For example, a dancer’s tooth might get buried with a tiny ballet shoe charm by the family garden.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Throughout West and Central Africa, the loss of a child’s baby tooth signifies their growth into a contributing member of the community. Families organize elaborate rituals overseen by village elders to guide the child into maturity. Music, food, and blessings accompany the burial.

Early America

In rural early 19th century America, one folk belief was that a child’s baby tooth buried beneath a tree would grow into a new tooth tree sprouting additional teeth! Though fanciful, it shows the symbolism teeth were given representing new life and fertility.

This small sampling shows just how diverse, creative, and meaningful cultural baby tooth burial rituals can be across the globe. Though the specifics vary, the unifying symbolic themes remain constant.

Why families choose to bury baby teeth today?

Why families choose to bury baby teeth today?

In our modern times, what leads parents to continue this ritual? Here are the deeper emotional reasons behind tooth burial traditions today:

1. Preserving happy memories

Baby teeth represent some of people’s very earliest, most cherished memories as a child and family. Burying them allows parents to honor and preserve joyful times from that stage of innocence and wonder.

2. Teaching letting go

Helping a child let go of a baby tooth makes space for the new, just as letting go of other phases of life allow maturity. Parents use the ritual to gently teach lessons on growing up and transition.

3. Reinforcing change is natural

Losing teeth reminds kids that change, even if scary or hard, is natural and allows room for the new. Burying the tooth helps kids see that transformations can be celebrated, not just mourned.

4. Keeping traditions and culture alive

For many minority or Indigenous families, burial ceremonies allow passing down vital cultural practices, history, andidentity to the next generation.

5. Making milestones meaningful

Just as first steps or first words are monumental milestones, so too is losing baby teeth. The burial ritual allows families to mark the momentous occasion.

6. Having faith in the future

In many spiritual traditions, burial represents the concept of regeneration. Placing the tooth in soil expresses hope in the cycles of life and what’s to come.

7. Fostering togetherness

A communal tooth burial service brings extended family and friends together in celebration of the child. It promotes bonding and a shared experience across generations.

In an increasingly busy and disconnected world, these ceremonial traditions remind families and communities to pause and commemorate each milestone along the path of childhood. For parents looking to lay a foundation of happy memories for their kids, baby tooth burial provides a simple but meaningful way to cherish each phase along the journey.

How modern parents choose to conduct tooth burial rituals?

If you want to adopt this special tradition in your family, what are some ways to conduct a tooth burial? Here are approaches used by parents today:

Backyard burial

This classic method involves picking a favorite spot in the yard with personal meaning to gently bury the tooth in an envelope or decorative box. Some families allow the child to choose the site to give them ownership.

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Plant a tree

Many parents have the child bury the tooth beneath a newly planted tree. This ties the ritual to symbolism of new growth taking root. The child can watch the sapling and their own maturity grow side-by-side.

Time capsules

Making a time capsule is a creative option. Alongside the tooth, place mementos in a box like photos, drawings, a note about favorite activities from that age. Burying it lets the child rediscover a snapshot of cherished memories later on.

Tooth fairy treasure hunts

Children who believe in the tooth fairy can set up an elaborate treasure hunt leading to the tooth’s burial spot in the yard. It adds exciting magic to the occasion the next morning.

Travel burial

Burying the tooth in a meaningful location during a family trip or vacation adds a memorable experience. It transforms the basic ritual into a special adventure.

Community ceremonies

Gathering extended family and friends together for a group burial ceremony makes the loss of the tooth more communal. It takes a village to raise a child after all.

Savings

Alongside other keepsakes Some parents prefer saving the tooth in a special box, scrapbook, or display case alongside other childhood mementos. This preserves it as a souvenir of the milestone.

Creative concealment

Kids who want the tooth fairy to take their tooth may opt to secretly bury it outside somewhere on the property. It adds a sense of mystery and ownership after they go to sleep.

The options are limitless when it comes to making tooth burial a personalized family tradition!

How to conduct a baby tooth burial ceremony at home?

conduct a baby tooth burial ceremony at home

 

If you want to try burying your child’s baby tooth at home, here are some step-by-step tips:

Step 1: Create a container

Place the tooth in something biodegradable like a paper envelope or small box. Decorate it together with stickers, art, or a note with a special memory or photo.

Step 2: Pick a spot

Choose somewhere with personal meaning to your child. This could be near a favorite climbing tree, playset, or special garden.

Step 3: Prepare the hole

Gently dig a hole 2-4 inches deep. Supervise use of any digging tools for safety. Consider having the child use a small plastic shovel or trowel.

Step 4: Conduct a ceremony

Let your child reverently place the tooth container in the hole. Say a prayer, poem, or share memories. Consider inviting grandparents or close friends.

Step 5: Fill the hole

Allow your child to cover the hole with soil and pat down. Mark the spot with a stone, plant, or other special trinket if desired.

Step 6: Celebrate

Close out the occasion by doing something fun together to honor the milestone like going for ice cream, taking a photo with the child, or writing in their baby book.

Alternative tooth memorial ideas beyond burial

While burial is traditional, some families opt to memorialize the lost tooth in other creative ways instead:

  • Create art or jewelry from the tooth like framing it or making a necklace
  • Let the child use it in art or craft projects, like gluing it on to a drawing of themselves
  • Place it in a shadowbox display case alongside other keepsakes from the same age
  • Save it in a special memory box, scrapbook, or chronological photo album
  • Make a plaster mold keepsake of the tooth before extraction
  • Have the child write a short story starring themselves and their lost tooth
  • Use the tooth for hands-on science activities like dental hygiene experiments
  • Allow your child to leave the tooth out for the tooth fairy if they enjoy that tradition

The tooth can be incorporated into crafts, art projects, or ceremonies in many ways that feel personal and meaningful to your family and child. The important thing is commemorating their milestone in a way that marks their special transition.

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Seeking professional help when tooth loss is problematic

professional help when tooth loss is problematic

 

While losing baby teeth is normal, there are times it warrants an evaluation by your pediatric dentist:

  • Teeth are very loose with no permanent tooth pushing underneath
  • Loss results from a dental injury or extensive decay
  • Child loses a permanent tooth prematurely
  • Multiple primary teeth suddenly fall out in a short period
  • Baby teeth fall out much earlier or later than peers
  • There’s excessive bleeding or pain during tooth loss

Schedule a dental exam if the tooth loss seems developmentally unusual or impacting your child’s health or self-esteem. Specialized pediatric dentists can assess the situation and restore any affected teeth.

Answers to Common Parental Questions

What’s the best age for tooth burial rituals?

Most dentists recommend burying lost teeth starting around age 4-6 when baby teeth typically first loosen and fall out. But any time is appropriate. Even if the child is too young to understand, it’s a special keepsake.

Can permanent teeth be buried too?

Though less common, some families do choose to bury permanent teeth that fall out prematurely due to injury or dental issues. Check with your dentist first in case they need to assess it. But burial provides closure.

Is burying unsanitary? What about germs?

Proper tooth burial poses minimal disease risk if done carefully and safely. But parents worried about germs can have the tooth professionally sterilized first or place it in a sealed container. Use common sense based on your cultural practices.

Do other cultures bury teeth too?

Yes, ritual tooth burial is a tradition in many cultures globally! From ancient spiritual practices to rites of passage, commemorating this milestone with burial is nearly universal across humanity.

What if we believe in the tooth fairy?

If your child excitedly awaits the tooth fairy, you can still bury the tooth after it’s been left out overnight. Just design a mini treasure hunt leading them to discover where it was buried outside.

Can we save a tooth instead of burying it?

You certainly can save shed baby teeth in other ways too, like in a jewelry box or baby book. Some parents keep baby teeth for the child’s scrapbook or time capsule later on. Both preservation methods have great merit!

In Conclusion

Around the globe for centuries, families and communities have commemorated the milestone of a child losing their first baby teeth through ceremonial burial traditions. Though fashions and specific rituals vary across cultures, they share powerful symbolic themes of honoring memories, celebrating transitions, and looking to the future. In today’s increasingly disconnected world, tooth burial offers parents a simple but meaningful way to mark a special turning point in their child’s life. The ritual provides lasting emotional significance and happy recollections that can be treasured from childhood into adulthood. By thoughtfully adopting traditions like burying baby teeth, families lay the foundation for cherishing each phase of the parenting journey along the way.

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