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The loss of baby teeth is a momentous occasion for parents and children alike. Yet, often that wiggly tooth falls out and there is no plan for what happens next. To avoid the last minute scramble here are some steps to help your family prepare for this milestone.  

Things to Do With Your Child

Talk with your child about being healthy. The tooth fairy is a great opportunity to talk about healthy habits. What are the teeth brushing and flossing expectations at your home? If sugary foods can lead to tooth decay, what should be the focus of your family’s diet? If the tooth fairy only visits when children are sleeping, what nighttime routines should be in place to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep?  

Check with your local library for books about the tooth fairy. Some great options might be:

Pete the Cat and the Lost Tooth by James Dean

What Does the Tooth Fairy Do With Our Teeth? by Denise Barry

The Night Before the Tooth Fairy by Natasha Wing

The Berenstain Bears and the Tooth Fairy by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Have your child draw or color a picture of the tooth fairy. As your child draws, take a minute to talk to them about when their baby teeth first emerged. Show them baby pictures and remind them of all of the ways they have grown since their baby teeth first started showing up in pictures.  

What Should the Tooth Fairy Bring?

The tooth fairy looks and does different things at different houses. To ensure that you’re prepared, take a few minutes to ask yourself a few questions and make a plan for what is best for your family. If you want the tooth fairy to leave a present, consider a tooth fairy coupon for a special treat, or a small toy (dolls or action figures are common), or even dental care kits. If you prefer to leave money but  wonder how much money to leave, you might want to check out Visa’s free app, which allows you to receive an average payment for kids in your area. If you are leaving paper dollars, some families choose to add a little bit of glitter to make the money extra special.  

Unforeseen Circumstances

Sometimes a tooth may fall out but cannot be found. If this happens, you and your child can write a short note to the tooth fairy explaining the situation and perhaps suggesting a location to search for it (school, playground, backyard, etc.). On extremely busy nights, you may not have cash or a present on hand for the tooth fairy to leave, especially when the tooth loss occurs right before bedtime. A simple explanation to your child of just how busy the tooth fairy can be, with the promise of a visit the next night, is sure to cause a toothless grin.


Does the tooth fairy leave money for lost baby teeth at your house? If she does, how much cash does she pay out per tooth?

According to VISA, some tooth fairies leave $3 per tooth. Others leave $5. Some very well-heeled tooth fairies are reported even to leave $50. Fifty dollars!

Each year, VISA conducts a survey of parents about tooth fairy payouts. The 2013 survey of 3,000 parents, just completed at the end of July and not yet published (though widely reported), found that tooth fairy visits this year result in 23% more money than they did just a year ago and 40% more than in 2011.

VISA reports that the national average tooth fairy-value of a baby tooth these days is $3.70. Six percent of parents report leaving $20 per tooth. And a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me 2% actually report leaving, yes, $50 per tooth.

In my day, the going rate for a baby tooth was 10 cents, tucked into a Sunday school offering envelope and slid beneath the pillow under my sleeping six-year-old head. That translates into just 86 cents in today’s dollars. So, clearly, more than just inflation is going on.

VISA’s spokesman Jason Alderman speculates that parents are trying to make up for lack of attention in other areas of their relationship with the child. Another VISA spokesman posits that parents view tooth fairy duties as a competition engaged with other parents, and more cash under-the-pillow demonstrates both more love and more financial capacity, should any other families find out. Regardless of the motivation, the message sent to children is problematic.

The whole tooth fairy notion is thought to be a way of easing a child’s anxiety over having part of his body fall out, by offering a monetary exchange, and also a way of softening a parent’s distress that her baby is growing up, by inventing a childish fantasy around the experience. So both parent and child are invested in the tooth fairy idea and enjoy it. But something in this fun custom is lost when the payout elevates a lost tooth to the level of a birthday. Even children realize that something is out of whack.

And this out-of-whack realization is corrupting. Over-payment sends the message that no amount of money is too much to ask for and that value is not tied to anything in the real world but is based only on what the market will bear. This is the sort of thinking that spun Wall Street out of control recently. Learning this sort of lesson early in life is not the sort of education children need.

There is no reason to go along with the tooth fairy game at all. If your child hasn’t lost a first tooth yet, you might want to consider if you want to let the tooth fairy into your lives at all and, if you do, what role you want her to play. Will she leave money? Or will she leave something else, maybe even just glitter standing in for fairy dust?

If you do have a tooth fairy and you do permit her to leave money, keep the amount within reason. Losing a tooth isn’t the same as losing another body part. A tooth does get replaced automatically, after all. Even though the national average might be nearly $4, keep in mind that this average is thrown off by those $50 payouts. A more reasonable amount – something in line with my own childhood, adjusted for inflation – is just a dollar. Even less – a shiny quarter, perhaps – would be fine.

The fun of the tooth fairy lies in the surprise (and, for the parent, in the challenge of slipping something past a sleeping child). It doesn’t really matter if the surprise has monetary value at all.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.