The answer, of course, is tooth decay, according to Oral Health America (OHA), a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on preventing oral disease and promoting oral health for Americans of all ages.

Surprised by that answer? Don’t be. More than a quarter of American children age 18 and under are at higher risk for tooth decay, according to OHA, with more than 68 percent of kids aged six to nine not receiving dental sealants (thin plastic coatings that are applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth) to protect them from tooth decay. Cost of care is a major factor, with many families experiencing difficulty paying for private services or finding a dental provider that accepts government funding through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid.

Without treatment, dental decay becomes irreversible, leading to infection of the teeth, gums and tooth loss. Lack of treatment also compromises the child’s ability to eat well, sleep well, and function well at home and at school. And dental disease can lead to diabetes and heart disease later in adult life.

Dental health has become a significant focus for Junior Leagues that partner with the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® program (BSBF), which provides free dental screenings and oral health education to children through a fleet of mobile dental vans that travel to under-served rural and urban communities across the U.S.

But the Junior League of Cincinnati is on its own path to ensuring dental health for our children…and it’s a good one.

JLC’s GrinUp! Pediatric Oral Health project is a public advocacy and education initiative dedicated to ensuring healthy teeth for kids in the Cincinnati community, including advocating for accessible and affordable oral health care.

The key to the success of GrinUp! is by making learning how to care for their teeth fun. How? By using learning tools that make it fun.

Take the GrinUp! website (operated separately from the JLC website), which offers an online “brush timer” to make it easy to do the two-minute brushing (twice a day!) that dentists recommend. Or fun facts about animals’ teeth (did you know snails have 25,000 teeth on their tongues?). And a kid-oriented video visually dissecting a child’s first visit to a dentist.

And then there’s the Inside the Grin exhibit at the Duke Energy Children’s Museum that lets kids step inside a giant mouth modeled after a typical dentist’s office, complete with reclining chair, child-safe dental instruments and interactive videos. Kids use giant dental floss and a massive toothbrush to practice proper flossing and brushing techniques, learning healthy habits through play.

A big part of the success of GrinUp! has been JLC’s partners. In addition to the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, part of the Cincinnati Museum Center, they include Children’s Oral Health Network, Procter & GambleOral Health America, Landor Associates, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Delta Dental Foundation.