Whether you look forward to back-to-school season or loathe it, one thing is certain: The time of season is upon us. One person who is ready is actor, director and activist Jesse Williams—you may know him from his roles in Only Murders in the Building and Grey’s Anatomy and his big Broadway debut earlier this year—who’s partnering with Crest & Oral B to help close America’s smile gap as summer winds down. The initiative aims to bring awareness to the fact that many kids lack basic oral care supplies, and it’s a cause close to Williams’ heart, not only because of his own experiences growing up, but the fact that he used to teach high school in a low-income school district.
“What Crest and Oral-B are doing in terms of education and access and resourcing for young people around the routine of and access to tools for basic oral health is surprisingly important,” the 42-year-old shares via Zoom. “It’s easy to overlook oral health. We all kind of think we automatically brush our teeth every day…you kind of take it for granted as a basic function.
But being able to go to the dentist regularly, having that insurance, having a parent that can take off from work, being able to get you from school to go knock that out regularly, is a privilege that a lot of us don’t have. Getting an updated toothbrush is also a privilege. A lot of us don’t have the resources for it, nor the time to focus on it. It hasn’t been a priority because we have a lot of other priorities when you’re strapped in underserved communities and working two jobs.”
One startling stat Williams shares: Nearly half of children in low-income households brush less than the recommended amount of twice per day, while 73 percent of high-income children brush twice or more a day.
“We all remember junior high school—there’s so many ways to feel insecure and not confident and have low self-esteem,” he adds. “If you don’t feel confident about what’s happening on your face, in your mouth, you’re not going to draw attention to yourself by participating in class. You’re not going to raise your hand. You’re not going to be able to focus or challenge ideas, your own or others. These things are a huge part of social growth, trial and error, academic growth, and a sense of self and willingness. It’s a real domino effect and very easily overlooked.”
Williams also says that teaming up with the brand, which he says was “ubiquitous” since he was a child, was pretty much a “no brainer.”
“The level of giveback they’re doing is not only real and measurable—but it’s been going on for a while. They have a real track record. Being able to find an organization that has already been walking the walk and putting their money and resources and time and energy into not only materials, but the access to events and dental visits and scholarships for dental school and making oral health a priority is huge. Basic oral health is so important—it can lead to a lot of your other health issues, and more and more science is coming out about that every day.”
Besides oral health and overall health, the Homeschooled gaming app creator also has been shifting more focus to his own self-care.
“It’s something that I’m not perfect with; I certainly neglect aspects of my own self-care, but I am trying to get better since it’s all related. A rising tide lifts all boats. Generally, I would say I’m more conscious of it now. I make a note to try to include it, but then there’s work and being a parent and all these things…it is a constant test of where I am prioritizing it on my checklist. I am always trying to inch it up. It’s active every day. Look, it’s a phrase I never heard of until a few years ago. So it is definitely a new frontier and I’m glad it is.”
Also on the schedule: Maximizing time with his kids as summer winds down. “When you’re a student, you have a summer because school defines your schedule. When you’re working, your job doesn’t care what month it is, but August has definitely calmed down. We’re on strike as writers and actors, so things have quieted down. Just being able to be with the kids as much as possible is what’s on tap. We’re having a really real summer this year, which I’m really excited about. Quality time means everything at that age and it certainly means a lot to me. There’s nothing like it.”