Getting money from the tooth fairy these days is like pulling teeth!
The average payout per tooth has plummeted 43 cents over the past year, according to the most recent Original Tooth Fairy Poll by Delta Dental data. The annual survey of more than 1,000 parents with kids ages six to 12 found that each pearly white commands $3.70 on average, down from $4.13 last year. It’s the second year in a row that lost teeth have lost value, as last year’s price per tooth was down 11% from the $4.66 apiece the year before.
The tongue-in-cheek survey mused that perhaps the tooth fairy’s “cold cash payouts couldn’t keep up with the hot stock markets this year.” But a new poll from the same company notes that the tooth fairy’s generosity may actually rely on what parents have lining their pockets. Indeed, almost half of moms and dads (46%) admit that the under-pillow reward depends on how much spare cash the “tooth fairy” has on hand at the time. And as American society goes increasingly cashless, scrounging actual currency at the last-minute can be a struggle. (Even Monopoly doesn’t use cash anymore.)
Other key considerations include: the child’s age (31%); how much money was given for the last few teeth (29%); how well the child has behaved (20%) and how many teeth the kiddo has already lost (18%).
But not every parent playing at being the tooth fairy is pinching their pennies. And factors like the kid’s age and which tooth they lost often translate into shelling out more money.
While Priska Diaz, 43, recalls just finding coins under her pillow in exchange for her baby teeth when she was growing up, today the Eastchester, N.Y. mom has upped the dental ante by giving her son, 11, and daughter, 10, a whopping $20 for every lost canine and incisor. She estimates she’s coughed up $200 in the name of the tooth fairy so far.
“We started with $5 per tooth, which was very exciting for a pre-Kindergartener,” Diaz said. But as her kids have grown to appreciate money thanks to getting allowances, opening their own bank accounts and tracking the cost of toys, Diaz said that this financial knowledge has “raised the value” of their teeth.
“Last year the tooth fairy gave my daughter a $10 bill, and that made her very upset for several days. The tooth fairy had to come back and add the other $10,” Diaz said. “They also know that if they’re good in school and write nice letters to the tooth fairy and to grandma, one lucky molar can go for $50.”
Talk about putting your money where your kid’s mouth is.
Not every version of the tooth fairy tips that well, however. Just over one in three parents (37%) in the Original Tooth Fairy Poll said they give their child at least $5 or more. And some regions are more generous than others. Kids out West make out like bandits, for example, where they get $4.19 per lost tooth, on average. Southern kids net $3.91 per tooth, while those in the Northeast and the Midwest net $3.75 and $2.97, respectively.
But the parents that MarketWatch spoke with, anyway, said that the Original Tooth Fairy Poll’s findings fall short of the real going rate for baby teeth. The first tooth usually commands the highest price, with many parents (sorry, tooth fairies) forking over $20 to celebrate the ‘smilestone,’ followed by subsequent teeth going for $5 apiece.
“The first tooth was big money: $20,” said Donna Saunders, a Manhattan mom of a 7-year-old son. “I’ve asked a bunch of friends, and we all thought $5 each for the rest was a nice amount; $2 or $3 wasn’t as impactful. The fifth tooth is about to come out any minute now, so I have my money waiting.”
Lance Somerfeld, father of two and founder of the City Dads Group, said he started giving $2 for his son’s first tooth, and then upped it a buck for each consecutive tooth: $3 for the second, and $4 for the third, before realizing this scale would take a huge bite out of his budget.
“We then realized that with 20 teeth, we needed a more cost-effective system or it would break the bank,” he said. “We capped it at $5, because most of our friends were giving in the $4 to $5 range.”
But that’s before getting the grandparents and great-grandparents involved. Somerfeld added that as soon as his son, now 11, loses a tooth, he calls his great-grandma in Florida. “She ‘alerts’ the ‘Florida tooth fairy’ who then mails another $5 to our son for each lost tooth. So, total haul per tooth equals $10,” he said, adding, “I love my grandmother for being a part of the magic.”
The gifts also vary by tooth. Washington Heights mom Lisa Marsh told MarketWatch that the tooth fairy’s gift to her son and daughter runs, “Five dollars, $10 or $20, depending on the tooth, the location of the loss and how long it took to come out, and there are letters written to the tooth fairy requesting such.” So a painful molar or premolar that takes its sweet time can command $20.
Or losing a couple of teeth at once also deserves special attention. Lyss Stern, CEO of the Divamoms.com lifestyle site and a mother of three, told MarketWatch that when her youngest son’s last four teeth came out at around the same time, she told him that the tooth fairy was saving a $20 Amazon gift card for him, which he’d get when the last one wiggled free. “He LOVED that idea,” she said.
Otherwise, her grandparents gave her boys $20 apiece for losing their first tooth, but then the boys got $5 for each subsequent tooth.
And parents say that spending this kind of time and money to keep the tooth fairy tradition alive is worth it for the priceless memories that the experience builds. Plus, it’s a great way to sneak in some lessons in oral hygiene.
“I grew up with the tooth fairy. It was a memorable and long standing tradition in our home … which felt like hitting a jackpot for each tooth,” Somerfeld said, “So I wanted to make sure my kids relished in the joy of losing their teeth, too.”
Shalena McPartland, a travel blogger and mother of a 7-year-old in London, even bought a vial of glitter (or fairy dust) and a special, shiny pouch to slip her son’s baby teeth in once they start falling out. “I might be just as excited for him to lose his first tooth as he is,” McPartland said. “I like the idea of making it a bit special. And perhaps the glitter and fanfare will bring down the ‘price’ of the tooth just a bit!” (She plans to give $1 apiece, since in the U.K. kids generally get 50 pence, she said.)
The bottom line: Kids have about 20 baby teeth, so don’t set the bar too high too early, or else coughing up $20 per tooth is going to set you back $400 per kid. If you start with big money for that first tooth, let your kid know that was a special occasion, but the tooth fairy will bring around $5 per tooth in the future (which adds up to $100 per child over their six or seven years of losing baby teeth) which is much easier to swallow. If the tooth fairy is low on cash or forgot to hit the ATM, smaller children will still be overjoyed with loose change or a few singles, along with a note or a treat to show the tooth fairy was there.
This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated with the latest Original Tooth Fairy Poll data.