TOOTH FAIRY TALES: Dentists, others see value in paying kids for lost teeth

Brian D. King | Daily Press

Robert Webb, a local dentist, places false teeth in his puppet and jokes with kids to make them feel at ease before routine cleanings and procedures. He also uses the puppet to teach kids how to properly brush their teeth.

The cost of gasoline, food, and other items is rising, so it should come to no surprise that the Tooth Fairy is shelling out more per tooth than in previous years.

According to Delta Dental of Oklahoma, the average cash gift per child stands at $5.36, a record high in the 24-year history of the poll. The initial poll, started in 1998, valued baby teeth at $1.30 each.

“The Tooth Fairy is a welcome visitor in homes across Oklahoma and the nation,” said Delta Dental of Oklahoma President and CEO John Gladden. “This year’s national poll reflects double-digit growth in Tooth Fairy giving – added inspiration for our youth to prioritize their oral health care.”

Dentists in Cherokee County embrace the roll of the Tooth Fairy, who comforts children at a time that could otherwise feel traumatic.

“Most kids aren’t excited about having their teeth pulled. Once it’s out, then they get excited about the Tooth Fairy, whether it’s a quarter, 50 cents, or a buck,” said Dr. Robert P. Webb of Family Dentistry. “That does give them have the courage to get a tooth pulled. If they are thinking, 'I don’t care about the shot,' just for sake of the tooth fairy.”

Generally, Webb encourages patients to get the kids to pull their own loose teeth, whether by twisting, turning, yanking, or flossing around them.

He said that working with children can be hard at times, because children are more likely to experience fear.

“The biggest challenge is to work on kids because they don’t understand. Fear is the biggest thing – fear of the unknown,” he said.

To assuage these fears, Webb talks to the young patients and describes the kinds of tools he uses in ways they will understand. He even brings out a green puppet to help the kids to feel at ease.

Dentists will also use nitrous oxide gas, which calms kids down and takes away that fear. The children's patient room also holds enough seats for parents, though sometimes that’s not helpful.

“Sometimes if their parents are there, the kids will want to go to them,” he said.

At the end of the visit, children receive a goodie bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, stickers, and floss.

“And they all know where the toy chest is,” he said.

Family Dentistry also has an agreement with Taco Bell, so kids who see the doctor will receive a certificate for a free taco.

Heather Winn, family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County, encourages families to get creative while teaching children about tooth hygiene.

“When I had young kids, we would reward them when the tooth fairy came. We would tell them it is important to eat healthy foods for the Tooth Fairy,” she said.

The Tooth Fairy can reward kids for teeth that don’t have cavities, or who are eating healthy foods and drinking dairy or nondairy milk products.

“It is important to have calcium and vitamin D, so we have healthy teeth,” she said.

Some children experience milk food allergies, so for them, drinking cashew milk or oat milk may be a better option. Also, many fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, are a good source of calcium.

“I do a program, and we talk about calcium and bones, and how it’s important to have healthy bones,” said Winn.

Calcium is critical for fending off bone diseases, such as osteoporosis. By drinking milk and other such products, children will increase their likelihood of living healthy throughout their lives.

“When I talk to teenagers, I tell them it’s not too late, and it’s never to late to eat healthy. When we take calcium now, it helps us to prevent bone disease later,” said Winn.

Parents, too, have noticed a difference in the "price" of a lost tooth, but most don't mind. Sandy Gilliam remembers that when raising her three children, the cost crept up year after year, and parents often compared notes so the kids didn't think they were getting "ripped off."

Last year, she cared for a grandson for two weeks, and he happened to lose a tooth during that time. He fully expected the Tooth Fairy to show up at Grandma's house. She laughed when recalling it.

"He got $5 for the Tooth Fairy at my house, and then expected another $5 later when he went back to his folks' house," she said. "It seems the Tooth Fairy 'forgot' she had already given him the first $5."

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