Samantha Bennett: Grim economy isn’t biting the Tooth Fairy

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Unless you are an oligarch, financial news lately tends to be pretty grim. Stagnant wages, joblessness … but you don’t come to this column for another dose of ash and barbed wire. So I’m going to tell you who (again, besides oligarchs and Kardashians) is doing well.

Children. Particularly children with gummy smiles.

An annual survey by Visa Inc. showed that in 2013, while the rest of us were still reflexively holding on tight to the purse strings and considering whether to repair a 10-year-old car or keep digital cable and watch “Top Gear,” the Tooth Fairy went on a spending binge.

You may not be able to pry a raise out of your employer, but your nieces, nephews, kids and grandchildren saw a generous increase in the bounty for obsolete dentition.

For some perspective: I’m probably about halfway between losing my baby teeth and losing the rest of them. In my tooth-shedding days, the going rate among my peers seemed to be a quarter, maybe two if removal had been in any way dramatic — involving, say, a doorknob or baseball.

The rate seemed pretty constant even in the event of dental burial at sea, when a tooth was swallowed. In that case, the parents would quickly explain that the Fairy absolutely did not require the retrieval of the evidence and would “just know.”

As an only child with a limited supply of baby teeth to lose, I was famously overcompensated for my Tooth Fairy offerings. I got a whole DOLLAR.

Yes, I’d put my little tooth into a plastic baggie and slip it under my pillow, and in the morning, I would find a crisp dollar bill. Also in a baggie.

(My Tooth Fairy probably wore latex gloves and a helmet.)

A whole crisp dollar! For a limited-edition piece of calcium I manufactured in my head! Chicken feed.

According to Visa’s annual survey, the going rate in 2013 for American children’s teeth was an average of $3.70 — a whopping 23 percent increase over the rate of $3 in 2012 and a 42 percent increase over the 2011 price of $2.60.

This raises an important question: How can the Tooth Fairy fly while carrying all that change? Also, how have financial experts missed this as an investment opportunity? The price of gold actually declined in 2013.

Well, as usual in financial stories, it’s not quite as simple as it seems. You have to look at how inflation affects the real value of a dollar over time, which is very dangerous if you are a journalist and bad at math. Brace yourself.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the crisp dollar in my baggie in, say, 1973 would be equivalent to $5.40 in 2013 dollars. I was getting over five dollars per tooth! So even by today’s generous standards, I was overpaid for the first and only time in my life.

However, the quarter many of my peers received from the nocturnal pixie would still be worth only $1.35 in 2013 dollars. Even doubling that payout for a doorknob-and-string job performed inexpertly by an older sibling would still net the victim less than $3, well under the 2013 survey average. And in 1973, removal would have been performed using analog tools. Nowadays, kids have access to smartphones and iPads with which to smack each other in the mouth.

So for today’s children, the financial picture remains rosy, at least until they run out of teeth. To predict future trends in this market, though, you have to remember baby teeth are one of relatively few commodities still manufactured in America. Offshoring has, thus far, not been economically advantageous.

Let’s hope the Tooth Fairy doesn’t ultimately look to economize by getting cheaper teeth from China.

Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:

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