Christmas 2012: Research

The tooth fairy and malpractice

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 13 December 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e3027

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I wonder if Yeung consulted his statistical department when submitting his letter. An estimated 15 million milk teeth at an average of £1.50 each is indeed "well over £16m" - £22.5m in fact.

And 15m "money drops" a year (assuming only one tooth per household per night) is just over 41,000 per night (41095).

As the previous responder said, one must get out more. And read one's BMJ more promptly!

Competing interests: None declared

David Pound, Retired general practitioner

general practice, Charwelton, Northants

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Ludman et al’s case report ‘The tooth fairy and malpractice’ [BMJ 2012;345:e3027] demonstrates a common (lay) misapprehension. Quite apart from the fact that it would be negligence and not malpractice (the authors all being based in England), no attempt has been made to apply the Bolam test: the article simply – and erroneously - equates ‘adverse outcomes’ with malpractice (sic). Such lax use of language can only make educating the public about clinical and legal issues more difficult.
Andrew Symon
PS New Year resolution: get out more.

Competing interests: None declared

Andrew G Symon, Senior Lecturer

University of Dundee, 11 Airlie Place, Dundee DD1 4HJ

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Losing milk teeth has also proven to be a profitable business for children. A recent study in the UK found that 70 per cent of parents pay at least £1 per milk tooth for tooth fairy visits. The value of milk teeth has steadily increased in the last 50 years, from an average of 15p in the 1960s to £1.50 today. [1]

The study revealed that parents in Yorkshire are the biggest tooth fairy advocates, with over 76 per cent paying at least £1 per tooth. In comparison, parents in the West Midlands are the most unwilling teeth traders, with about 1 in 20 (6 per cent) refusing to pay their children anything. [1]

In the United States, the average tooth fairy payout was $2.60 in 2011. Not only is the tooth fairy boundlessly generous, she is also inconsistent. Children of divorced parents report getting $10 at Mom’s house and a Star Wars action figure at Dad’s. [2]

In fact the tooth fairy is one of the hardest working employees in the country as they clock on for their night time shift. An estimated 15 million milk teeth fall out each year, making an average of 42,000 ‘money drops’ a night, totalling well over £16 million a year. [3]

In all seriousness, there is a message here. You can enhance lost tooth safety by placing the precious enamel in a small container or envelope before slipping it under your child’s pillow. That way the tooth cannot get into any orifice.

That’s the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth!

1 Dental Tribune International. As much as £10+ a day: British parents pay kids to brush their teeth. 6 December 2012.

2 August DA. The tooth fairy: a cautionary tale. Anesthesiology 2012;117:1386-8.

3 British Dental Health Foundation. Tooth fairy business tops £16 million. 3 June 2011.

Competing interests: None declared

C Albert Yeung, Consultant in Dental Public Health

NHS Lanarkshire, Kirklands, Fallside Road, Bothwell G71 8BB

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