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A message from the Elephant Tooth Fairies.

By Elsa Loissel
9 February 2013 01:15:00

Dear President and board members of the Tooth Fairy & Mouse Corporation, (Inc.) [1]

We, the Asian and African Elephant Tooth Fairies - along with our colleagues the Asian and African Elephant Tooth Mice - hereby notify the president and members of the board of the Tooth Fairy & Mouse Corporation (Inc.) of our desire to get better working conditions. 

Indeed, work hours, hourly salaries and benefits are currently based on the Human Tooth Fairy and Mouse duties and responsibilities. We will expose hereafter why we believe this situation is unfair. 

The Human Tooth Fairy & Mouse claim they have the most important job of all since children have 28 teeth that need collecting. However, please consider that while humans have only two sets of teeth during their lifetimes, elephants have six of them.  Consequently, we have to preside to the teeth replacement five times in one elephant's life. You may therefore understand how important our workload is - not to mention how much money we have to spend. 

Some of our colleagues in the Human department have argued that our claims are pointless since elephants only have six teeth at any given time:two tusks and four molars, one on each side of each jaw. This is actually true, but incomplete, given the six sets situation (six sets of 4 teeth, plus the tusks, equals 26 teeth that we have to look after). Also, four molars maybe, but what molars!! The size of a brick and let's not even mention the weight. Actually let’s talk about it: up to 11 pounds for the African elephant! Imagine how ill prepared we are, with our little wings and our little legs, to transport such massive chewing instruments! 

Our friends and colleagues the Elephant Tooth Mice wanted to address a crucial point. As you are well aware, their ultimate goal is to please their Queen by building her a palace entirely made of shiny, sparkling teeth collected all over the world. Teeth are therefore a serious matter for them as they represent their basic construction material. 

Unfortunately, elephants have been proven to be a poor source of quality supply. In children and many other mammals, the new tooth grows vertically, which means the old one falls intact. In pachyderms, teeth grow horizontally: they emerge at the back of the mouth and then slowly make their way up to the front, similar to a conveyor belt. [2] In the process the old tooth is pushed out and destroyed by its young rival. It often breaks down in many pieces and sometimes is swallowed by the elephant. In these conditions, we hope you realize what a loss it represents for the Tooth Mice and how hard it is for them to reach their monthly quota of goods to deliver to the Queen's Palace.

We would like to highlight the emotional and moral distress we have to go through during our lives with our gentle jumbos. For our colleagues dealing with human beings, swapping the milk tooth for a coin is a joyful moment, a rite of passage almost. No such thing for us; when time comes to collect teeth from set number 5, our hearts are filled with pain and sorrow. We know that when the last tooth of the last set is completely worn out, the elephant is not able to feed herself anymore. She will go to wetlands where the plants are softer, then progressively get weaker and weaker before passing away. We hope you realize the important source of stress it represents for your employees. 

Finally, please consider that teeth allow researchers to identify the species they belong to. For example they can identify past and extinct species such as mammoths and, by analyzing their chemical composition, reconstruct the diet and the environment they were living in. Teeth are also important to people doing genetic analyses since DNA is present and well preserved in the pulp. Distinguishing between Asian and African tuskers is also easy. In African elephants the ridges at the surface of the tooth are diamond (or lozenge)-shaped while an Asian elephant’s tooth has a higher number of parallel, loop-shaped ridges. This is due to differences in eating behaviors: African jumbos are browsers feeding on branches from bushes and trees while Asian elephants are grazers relying on grass. 

There is in fact more to it than this: through teeth experts can estimate the size and age of a dead elephant, which is very useful during these times of poaching. We believe we don't have to explain further why our work is therefore crucial.

Since we are on the topic of poaching, we hope you do not forget that tusks are teeth - more precisely modified, overgrown upper incisors. 

They are formed of a special type of dentine -ivory - that is unfortunately a great carving material. Milk tusks appear when the baby is about 7 to 8 month-old, soon replaced by proper tusks around 18 to 24 months. While only male Asian elephants have tusks, both female and male African jumbos possess them -- think of the workload! Tusks grow continuously at a rate of 15 to 18 cm a year. It is really useful because jumbos wear them out by using them for digging or removing bark. The disadvantage is that tusks areliving organs, just like other teeth: in fact about one third of the tusk is actually invisible, since it goes up into the skull to the jaw. Breaking one near its root can therefore be extremely dangerous for an elephant - infection, pain... Which again, means more work and emotional distress for us.

We hope this grievance letter has convinced you of the importance of our mission and the difficulties associated with it. We eagerly await your answer and your propositions about how to improve our work conditions. 

Best wishes,

AAETFMA (Asian and African Elephant Tooth Fairies and Mice Association). 

[1] The Anglo-Saxon world has the Tooth Fairy while the Latin world (France, Italy, Spain etc...) has the Tooth Mouse, whose job is practically the same. 
[2] Not the only thing the elephant does differently than everybody else: they also chew back and forth and not from one side to the other like us.


Elsa is a Research Assistant with Think Elephants International, a U.S. based N.G.O. performing cutting edge research into elephant intelligence and developing conservation education curricula for Thai and International children.  Elsa lives full time in the Golden Triangle with our elephants and helps us run our Elephant Learning Experiences.

To take advantage of the Think Elephants' brains, either for your group, or to sponsor a group of local school kids for an Educational day out in the elephant camp please contact us (or hit the donate button on


Patricia Walsh Says
26 April 2013 00:42:00

Your grievances have been duly noted by the office of Tooth Fairy and Tooth Mouse Union International. Since your article was written, certain improvements have been implemented vis a vis the recycling of each human child’s 20 deciduous teeth. They will no longer be used to build the Queens castle and instead, will be given to babies waiting in ‘baby heaven‘ who are in need of teeth. This practice has been used effectively in several countries for generations and is in tune with our new ‘green‘ protocol. Thank you for your informative and interesting article.The unfair compensation issues will be studied.Please keep in mind that an elephant is easily distracted by a handful of sugar cane or bananas. A human child between the ages of six and twelve requires a bribe of state of the art of electroncs. The former is more likely to part with his/her exfoliated tooth than the later- without an IOU or hard cash in exchange.

John Roberts Says
9 February 2013 01:23:00

...another important point for the Latin world: I'm not sure we've ever calculated the stress caused to the tooth mice for having to deal with a much larger beast that is frightened of them.

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