Visa's Tooth Fairy App Calculates the Going Rate for Baby Teeth

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Are you paying your children below market rate for their teeth? Here's an app that can relieve you of this troubling anxiety.

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Gorelova/Shutterstock/Rebecca J. Rosen

I can't decide if the following news is grisly, hilarious, or postmodernly depressing. So, let me quote the USA Today article that broke the story about Visa's baby-tooth-value calculator app:

Nobody wants to be the parent whose child is "the talk at recess," because of a frugal Tooth Fairy, says Amy Moncarz, a second-grade teacher at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Discrepancies in tooth price can lead to a conversation parents might want to avoid: the existence of the Tooth Fairy itself.

To help parents calculate the going rate for teeth, Visa on Tuesday is launching an app for iPhone and iPad and a calculator on its Facebook page. The app uses the survey's data to determine the average payoff a child can expect based on a parent's gender, education, location, age and income. The app also shows how much the recommended dollar amount was worth when the parent was 8.

Visa says the average across the country is $3 per tooth. I played a bit with the app, holding age, gender, and location steady while playing with the household income and education level variables. The smaller the amount I put in for household income, the greater the size of the average tooth fairy's gift. In fact, I was only able to get calculator to output $5 by setting my household income to $20k per year and selecting that my highest level of educational attainment was high school. Grad school degree holders making more than $150,000 per year gave their kids an average of $1 per tooth.

While parents have wanted their kids to fit in for a lot longer than Visa has been making iPhone apps, this kind of computational conformity is newly available to parents. You want your kids to fit in? Now you can make sure they do -- in a statistically valid way! 

But in measuring something like this, you may change it. As a business consultant told USA Today, "The app would be a driver of tooth inflation, not a tracker. I would predict a psychological bidding game." Next stop: The Twenty-Spot Tooth Fairy. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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