Christina Milian Wants to Close the “Smile Gap” — Here’s What That Means and Why It’s Important to Her

Christina Milian

Source: Getty Images

Plus, how she teaches her kids about hygiene.

Who wouldn’t want to give their child the gift of a healthy smile? Sadly, regular dental care just isn’t available to many American families, and children of color are especially impacted. 

That’s why Crest and Oral-B are teaming up with actress, singer, and activist Christina Milian for their “Closing the Smile Gap” campaign. As a child of Cuban immigrants, Milian told us that she knows firsthand how deeply this issue impacts underserved communities. 

And there’s plenty of research to back her up. One study of the “smile gap,” found that Black children were twice as likely as their white peers to have poor oral health, while Hispanic kids were nearly four times as likely to suffer. The consequences of this are huge. Research shows that children with untreated tooth decay are far more likely to miss school and perform worse in the classroom. Plus, it can seriously affect their self-esteem. And down the road, those problems only become worse. 

We spoke to Milian about why she felt personally connected to his cause and more details about how she’s teaching her own little ones about the importance of oral hygiene.

Katie Couric Media: I think many people are surprised to learn about the profound impact access to dental care can have on the course of a child’s life. What was your reaction when you learn about the “smile gap” and its consequences?

Christina Milian: I was so sad to learn how many children, especially Black and Hispanic children, do not have the access to oral care or products that they deserve. Yet, to some degree, I wasn’t surprised as this is a devastating issue that once hit home for people in my own family.

That must have made this partnership really personal to you. Can you tell us about how it impacted your own family?

My parents were both Cuban immigrants and growing up, they were at a huge disadvantage

both financially and medically — they didn’t have access to the information on the importance of oral hygiene. When they became adults, unfortunately, they had to deal with problems that could’ve been avoided. And so my parents really pressed the importance of brushing our teeth often after meals, flossing and getting teeth cleanings. And because of this I use their lessons as a guide to help teach my children.

How do you teach your kids about oral health and hygiene in general?

When they’re little I like to start off in the bathtub because I feel like in the bathtub they learn so much and I have their focused attention. And their interest is in hygiene at that moment. So I teach them to brush their teeth often, at least the beginning of the day and the end of the day, and if I’m lucky I fit in somewhere in the middle. And with my daughter, she’s 11 years old and I’ve taught her much about flossing, and my son Isaiah seems to be very interested, so I try to floss his lil baby teeth. I also found a really cute dentist office that caters to children and they make it a lot of fun for kids to go to the dentist so it’s been easy for me to get Violet’s cleanings every six months ever since I started taking her to the dentist and soon I’ll be doing the same thing with Isaiah.

So it sounds like your kids don’t mind the dentist! Have they always?

I haven’t gotten to take Isaiah yet, but Violet always looks forward to it. Her dentist gives her stickers and a cool little toothbrush and toothpaste at the end and she’s able to watch kids’ movies while getting her dental cleaning done. She’s always enjoyed it and, as a matter of fact, always asked me when she’s going back to the dentist.

Crest and Oral-B are on a mission to serve 2 million kids and families in need of dental care access. Can you share more details about this campaign, what communities they’ll be targeting, and how you’re pitching in?

For too many families, the preventative dental care and resources needed to avoid tooth decay are just out of reach. This painful reality creates a lifetime of oral health issues that can lead to missed opportunities, impact self-esteem, and impact school performance, contributing to a constant struggle to catch up. So, this is why Crest and Oral-B are working to help close the smile gap across the nation. This year, they’re headed to 10 states (like Texas, California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and more) where communities have a need for support and are committed to reaching an additional 2 million families with dental care access, oral health products, and education. I’m proud to help raise awareness about this mission, and to do my part to teach my own kids the healthy habits they need to have healthy smiles now and in the future.

Speaking of clean kids! Did you hear about that whole conversation around the celeb parents who don’t bathe their kids every day? How do you approach that sort of stuff in your family?

Hygiene is very important to our family nest. Our kids take baths often. We wash our hands often. We’ve been doing this since day one. Kids bring home so many germs and dirt we wanna have clean walls, floors, and beds, and stay healthy! And they DEFINITELY get bathed often. LOL! Besides, bath time is their favorite time! I barely get the “Ba-” in the word “bath” out and they’re excited. Most especially Isaiah and Kenna.