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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Inflation Punches the Tooth Fairy in the Teeth

I remember when I lost my first tooth at the age of six years old.  It had been wiggly, jiggly for several days yet still refused to abandon the safety and security of my gumline.

Our 6-year old's first missing tooth
In frustration I helped prep it for removal by constant, violent jarring back and forth with my tongue – in much the same way that a cattle rancher struggles to jerk a stubborn fence post from the dry ground of the back forty.

After several more days of dental defiance, I ultimately wrapped the tooth in tissue and then used a toy wrench to yank the reluctant incisor from my head. Victorious in my bloody carnassial conquest, I stashed the tiny enameled trophy under my pillow anxious for its miraculous transubstantiation into cold cash courtesy of the Tooth Fairy.

When I woke up – JACKPOT!!!  I found a brand new, shiny 1976 bicentennial commemorative quarter.  At the time, it was truly a thing of beauty and was the most money that I’d ever held in my hand. Fast forward 35 years….

Yesterday, our six-year old [see photo insert] lost her first tooth at school while fiddling with it during first grade “rug time.”  Subsequently, the school nurse gave her a nifty, plastic necklace with a cartoonishly-large, tooth-shaped pendant in which our daughter could safely stow and transport the boney relic.

At bedtime, Sydney placed the entire necklace under her pillow and refused to place her head on it, choosing instead to sleep next to the pillow. Her pragmatic reasoning was to maximize the Tooth Fairy’s ease of access to the toothy booty, perhaps ensuring a larger payday.


To continue with the story, I’m obligated to write that there is NO actual Tooth Fairy per se. What actually happens is that parents simply wait until the kiddos are asleep and then they swap out the tooth with some coinage – if you missed the above warning, my deepest apologies.

So Syd’s asleep and I told my wife that I’m going to change out the tooth for two shiny, new quarters marking a full 100% increase over my own first tooth transaction – that’s a pretty generous exchange rate if I do say so myself.

However, my wife’s mouth dropped open in stunned disbelief and was immediately followed by an obligatory double eye roll with a dash of subtle, yet negative head shaking back-and-forth.

She exclaimed, “This is Sydney’s FIRST tooth. Don’t you remember that we gave Taylor $5.00 for her first tooth??? We can’t give Syd any less than that!”

That's when my jaw dropped open. I did some quick math in my head – and $5.00 constituted a 20-fold increase beyond my own first tooth cash redemption. Quickly, I sprinted upstairs and found an online inflation calculator to determine the conversion rate of $0.25 in 1976 to current dollars. Here’s the link

Turns out that the inflation-adjusted $0.25 in 1976 would equal $0.93 in today’s valuation. So my initial offer of $0.50 may have seemed generous, but it didn’t even keep pace with inflation.

However, $5.00 still seemed astronomically high for a single tooth – similar to Italy’s runaway inflation of the 1980s where it took wheelbarrows full of Lira to buy a loaf of bread or a new post-midterm election Obama-esque bailout scheme for the dental industry - it was akin to that.

I went back downstairs and stressed to my wife that I was uncomfortable mimicking the spending habits of a drunken sailor or a stone-sober member of Congress, but she reiterated that we had already established the payment threshold for the first tooth at $5.00 and $1.00 for each subsequent tooth. What could I say???

So, the precedent (or should I write precedental???) had been set for our first daughter. While I vaguely remembered something to that effect, I must admit that I tend to display selective memory at times especially regarding certain milestones such as monetary redemption rates for tiny dead teeth.

Needless to say, Sydney was appropriately thrilled with the cache of cash under her pillow from the "Tooth Fairy" this morning.  All was well.

In passing, I asked her how much she had expected to get for the tooth and without missing a beat she said, “Oh, I don’t know maybe thirteen-forty-hundred or something?”

Huh, thirteen-forty-hundred? Perhaps Syd and I need to spend a bit more time covering the fundamentals of finance such as net present value and the time-value of money, or I could simply have paid her in marbles and sea shells?


  1. Husband, you crack me up! I am still laughing as I post my comment, that was a funny one! Thank you, I needed those laughs today. :)

  2. My original thoughts when my oldest lost her first tooth was $1 a tooth sounded fair. She then had a tooth that would not fall out on it's own. It was in there good and tight even though the adult tooth had come up through and was just making the crooked mess in her mouth worse. The dentist had to extract it.

    I felt so bad for her. Only 8 years old and getting 2 shots of Novocain and a tooth yanked out by the dentist. She received a note from the tooth fairy that night stating that having a tooth removed by the dentist was worth double the pay. This led to a very happy 8 year old.

    Little did the naive tooth fairy know that this was the start of a new trend. Many extractions by the dentist would follow. One daughter had as many as 8 pulled all in one day. Another daughter 11 in one day.

    Some children grow extra teeth and lose a lot more than the 20 teeth other children lose. My kids have all had extra teeth. The second daughter has lost 4 teeth the natural way like most kids do. All the rest including the extra teeth have been pulled.

    I thought when the two oldest ones didn't believe in the tooth fairy any more that they might out grow the tradition. Just this week my 13 year old had 3 teeth pulled. She tells her 6 year old sister, "Look the tooth fairy will give me $6 for these because the dentist pulled them."

    The 6 year old very excitedly replies, "The dentist told me today I have to get my teeth pulled, too!"

    Time to begin again.

  3. Ah... "thirteen-forty-hundred" - instantly reminds of the various Bill Cosby schticks from my own childhood, where I was introduced to similar concocted numbers of "forty-leven" and "eleven-teen"... :-)

    That said, My wife and I have had (remarkably) similar situations with our 10-yr-old Jaimee, and each time the amount of the compensation sas no direct correlation to, well, anything.

    All I can say is to comment on the stark difference between childhood dental experience vs adult: a couple years back, I needed a root canal and a crown; not only was I NOT rewarded for losing a tooth, *I* had to pony up about $1200! Hmm... How did THAT happen? :-)

    Kinda blows away any inflation metrics....


  4. Oh, I'm with ya Tor. I think it's insane how much money the "tooth fairy" is out these days for these itty bitty little teeth! Fun tradition and all, but I think the tooth fairy will go broke at this rate!

  5. I always found this custom a little strange, I mean it's perfectly acceptable to do this in your own house, but try to do it at your neighbors and watch the reaction. Giggled at the precedental line.

  6. @Bill, merely a giggle?? I'm hurt! I thought you could at least spot me a guffaw or a light-hearted chortle....