A fairy with deep pockets

Going rate for teeth no longer pocket change

Going rate for teeth no longer pocket change

June 23, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Mae Patey was 18 months old when she lost her first tooth and the dentist pulled it out.

When the Hagerstown girl lost her second tooth by yanking it out in her sleep, she received $2 rather than $1 from the tooth fairy because it was a rather traumatic experience.

When she lost her third tooth, swallowing it while eating pizza, she worried the tooth fairy wouldn't come. There was no tooth to leave under her pillow.

"But the tooth fairy wrote her a note and said she got it anyway. Tooth fairies can do that," said Kelly Patey, mother of Mae, 5.


Since the loss of the third tooth also was particularly traumatic, the tooth fairy left $2, Patey said.

One dollar seems to be the going rate for a tooth these days, though some parents in Hagerstown's City Park and some dentists reported children getting $5 or even $20 for a tooth.

Dr. Tom McCafferty with Allegany Dental Care on Leitersburg Pike said children in some affluent families were getting $20 per tooth.

"But I don't think those parents realize there's 20 teeth to go," he said. Otherwise, their tooth fairy better have some good mutual funds, McCafferty joked.

Patey's friend Sarah Faith said she heard a child got $20 under the pillow for a tooth.

Hearing that, Waynesboro, Pa., resident Mendie Boward joked that her children's tooth fairy was cheap. Her three children each received a $1 when they lost a tooth.

"I haven't begun to think of what I'll do. I'm taking in what everybody else does," said Faith, the Hagerstown mother of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. "I got a silver dollar one time and I was just like, 'Ooooohhh.'"

The more popular exchange rate for a tooth, judging from an informal survey, was $1 to $5, with the higher amounts tending to be left for special teeth.

"Well, it all depends. First tooth, say $5 because it's special. The tooth fairy usually leaves about a $1 for every tooth after that," Hagerstown mom Rose Monn said.

Sometimes a tooth has to be pulled and the tooth fairy considers that extra special and leaves $5, she said.

Caitlin Monn, 9, has lost eight teeth. She spent the money left to her by the tooth fairy on clothes or toys.

Stacey Martin of Hagerstown said her three children get $2 for a regular tooth, but the tooth fairy would leave $5 for a molar.

The exchange rate for a Hardy tooth also depends on the type of tooth, said Joanna Hardy of Hagerstown. Her four children get $1 for a regular tooth and $2 for a molar.

Hardy's mother-in-law, Diane Roberts, has four children ranging in age from 9 to 40, but the price for a tooth has remained the same - $1.

Tammy Miner of Bunker Hill, W.Va., said her sons, ages 17 and 21, got a quarter and eventually a $1 for a tooth when they were little. The money was probably spent on Matchbox cars.

Miner said her great-nephew Devon Staley, 8 months, will probably get $1 for a tooth. He'll have to wait a bit. He only has two teeth in.

Children usually lose their first set of baby teeth by age 7 or 8, McCafferty said. The back teeth usually go around age 11 or 12.

While some kids are getting $20 for a tooth, usually it's a few dollars, McCafferty said.

Andrea Huff, office manager for dentist Randolph T. Evans in Martinsburg, W.Va., said many children are getting $5 a tooth. Some kids are left a gift certificate, toy or a ribbon that says, "I lost a tooth."

If a child loses a tooth at her daughter Kaira's elementary school, the student gets a necklace holding a plastic molar, a lost-tooth certificate and a pencil, Huff said.

Some kids there have tried to wiggle their teeth out to get the prizes, she said.

So where did the tooth fairy come from?

The modern-day tooth fairy has its roots in folklore of yore that includes spirits, witches, fairies and animals, said Marlene Targ Brill, author of "Tooth Tales from Around the World."

Hundreds of years ago European mothers would save baby teeth under the belief that a person buried with all their body parts, including teeth, would have a spirit that lives forever, Brill said.

Some people worried about evil spirits getting control over lost teeth and therefore control over the tooth's original possessor, Brill said.

These good and bad spirits became known as fairies and witches in stories told around the world.

Children in several countries would hide teeth where certain animals could find them, believing that if an animal with strong teeth found the lost tooth, that child would grow back a strong tooth in its place, Brill said.

Often the animal was the tooth mouse.

About 100 years ago, children in Europe started getting treats from the tooth mouse, presenting the idea of exchanging the tooth for a small present but not necessarily money, Brill said.

In the early 1900s people referred to the good fairy taking away lost teeth. This good fairy came to be known as the tooth fairy in the U.S., more often leaving money for a tooth after the Depression. The idea picked up steam and became popular after World War II.

Today, in places such as South America, Eastern Europe and islands off Australia, leaving a tooth for a treat from the tooth mouse is more common than leaving a tooth for the tooth fairy, Brill said.

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