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Posted on Thu. Apr. 24, 2014 - 12:32 am EDT

Tooth Fairy breaks the bank

Price of teeth rising, but Midwest below national average

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FORT WAYNE — Inflation, it appears, has hit make-believe.

Now that the Easter Bunny has hopped out of the picture for another year, and Santa is eight months away from his nonstop tour, that leaves all the time between for the underappreciated Tooth Fairy, who never has to worry about the burden of seasonal popularity.

The Tooth Fairy is constant; 365 days a year, although most of her work, like Santa, is done at nighttime, when children sleep with a tooth they just lost tucked safely beneath their pillow.

That’s always been the deal, hasn’t it: The child loses a tooth, leaving a gaping smile, and deposits it beneath his pillow with the hopes of making a trade – the now-worthless tooth for money, or some other bit of evidence that the Tooth Fairy has paid a visit without making a sound.

Through the years, the going price of a tooth has increased. Depending upon the Tooth Fairy’s budget, a small baby tooth has climbed from pennies to 5 cents to a dime to a quarter and as much as a dollar.

According to a Visa survey, the Tooth Fairy plunks down an average of $3.70 for an American tooth – a hearty 23 percent increase over the $3 per tooth left in 2012, and 42 percent more than the $2.60 left in 2011.

The results are based on 3,000 telephone interviews conducted nationally last summer.

“What it tells us is that the Tooth Fairy is leaving a lot of money under the pillow, and this is an important life event for parents with young children,” says Nat Sillin, Visa’s head of U.S. financial education. “It’s one of the first times where parents are giving their children money, and it’s an opportunity for them to teach them about how to budget and save, and the value of a dollar.”

The Tooth Fairy was particularly generous to children who lived in the Northeast, where they received an average of $4.10 per tooth. Kids in the West and South got an average of $3.70 and $3.60. And it’s in the Midwest where the tooth is most undervalued with an average of $3.30.

“The Tooth Fairy has come to our house, absolutely,” says Ellen Neebes, who has three children – 13-year-old Lindley, 10-year-old Mallory and 5-year-old James, who is on the cusp of losing his first tooth.

Neebes, of Fort Wayne, says that when they started out with Lindley, the idea was to increase each lost tooth by 25 cents, with the first being worth a dollar.

“The Tooth Fairy didn’t think very far ahead that it would get quite expensive when they were on their 13th tooth,” Neebes says. “Thankfully we don’t have any more children, or we’d be broke.”

Eager for her own payoff, a younger Mallory jiggled a tooth out while standing over the sink. Clearly, a rookie mistake.

“It fell down the drain,” Neebes says. “She was wiggling it over the sink, and she was devastated. She was in kindergarten, so she had to write a long letter to the Tooth Fairy, and the Tooth Fairy wrote a long letter back to her.”

As for the Etzler children – 9-year-old Gavin, Adrienne, 5, and 1-year-old Avery, their fortunes are limited.

Initially, when (Gavin) lost his teeth, we only gave him money for the first four teeth,” says mom Hayley Etzler of New Haven. “For the fifth tooth, we wrote him a note, basically, saying keep up the good work of brushing your teeth, but the Tooth Fairy only pays for the first four.”

Then there are others who try to uncover the real mystery of the phantom fairy; that in these days of information overload, it’s pretty hard to swallow that a whisp of an entity passes out free money. The fairy part is possible. But who in their right mind gives out money?

“She knew there wasn’t a Tooth Fairy, but she still tried to put her tooth under there,” says Amy Dillingham of her 9-year-old daughter Keira. “And when the last one popped out, I said, ‘Just hand it to me. I’ll give you a quarter.’ ”

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