KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If Kansas City Chiefs fans drive through North Kansas City, they’ll see a few familiar faces on a billboard.
Chiefs linebackers Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton are plastered on one with the staff of NKC Dental and its founder, Dr. Bill Busch.
Busch has been the official dentist of the Chiefs since 2012.
When most people think of professional athletes spending money, they likely think of the stereotypes first: expensive clothes, jewelry, fancy cars and spending money on their families.
But what most don’t think about are the simple things that pro athletes gain access to: traveling to new places, the ability to buy well-balanced meals, paying for premium gas to fuel those fancy cars, and adequate healthcare.
And that adequate healthcare includes access to proper dentistry, like with NKC Dental.
Gay, safety Bryan Cook and offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor are three of a few Chiefs taking full advantage of that access.
Gay has been using Invisalign since about 2022. The year before, he went in for a regular checkup when he was informed about the aligners.
With Invisalign being the “Official Clear Aligner Sponsor of the NFL,” it’s simple for players to get started. Invisalign is also the “Official Smile” for 11 NFL teams, including the Chiefs.
“I didn’t know nothing about Invisalign in college,” Gay said. The Starkville, Mississippi native stayed home and played for Mississippi State from 2017-19.
“My teeth was alright. I liked the way my teeth looked back then. But if you could make it better, why not?”
Gay’s big family didn’t have much growing up in one of the poorest states in the U.S. Dental checkups were uncommon.
“I was just blessed to have good teeth,” he said. “I went to the dentist probably twice my whole childhood. I had cavities growing up, but as a young kid, who gives a damn about cavities? So when you get older, you know better, so you do better.”
Cook and Taylor attempted Invisalign as well, but it didn’t quite turn out how they wanted.
Cook had the aligner while he was in school at Cincinnati but didn’t complete the entire process, which forced him to start over. Now, he wears good old-fashioned braces.
“I got tired of just eating and taking them out and trying to put them back in, so I chose to go the braces route,” he said.
The second-year safety, who also stayed home for college, has a gap in the middle of his teeth, and it expanded because he played with it a lot growing up, like putting pencils in it.
“I just always wanted you know, basically straight teeth,” he said. “But now I have obviously the resources. Back then I didn’t have resources, and now I can actually figure out how I can go right away without damaging anything.”
Taylor did Invisalign during his senior year at Cocoa High School in Cocoa, Florida. He finished the process, but he didn’t wear his retainers at night, so his teeth began shifting.
A year later, his orthodontist told him that he needed to wear trays once again for another 3-4 months.
Taylor opted instead to go for resin veneers for the look that he wanted, giving him a new smile that he hopes lasts for up to 10 years.
“You go off of what you want. I came in there with pictures and everything,” he said. “I was like give [the doctor] ideas like ‘This the smile I’m looking to get. Make it look natural, make it look like they grew out my gums basically.'”
Having good-looking teeth is big in the Taylor family.
Taylor’s brother went with him to get veneers, and about eight members of his family got their teeth done as well. His mother Wendy and his late father Robert got their teeth done before Taylor signed his four-year, $80 million contract with the Chiefs.
Taylor already brushes his teeth six times a day with three different toothpastes, and he plans to go back to the dentist to get porcelain veneers, which can last 20 to 25 years.
“My mom, she was big on us taking care of our teeth and stuff like that,” he said. “She would make sure we brush our teeth at night when we was kids, very limited on giving us candy and stuff like that.
“If you look at our family now, the people that come to the game, everybody teeth look good.”
Being able to choose a dental procedure is a phenomenal thing for athletes, especially ones who didn’t have prior access to proper dentistry.
According to the CDC as of 2019, around 87% of children aged 2-17 have had a dental visit in the past year. That number has gradually increased from around 73% in 1997.
For Dr. Busch, the 13% that aren’t getting regular dental visits is why he started TeamSmile with former Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt in 2007 to screen, treat and educate underserved children on the importance of oral health.
The nonprofit partners with sports teams, community sponsors, a children’s school/organization, and community volunteers to deliver free oral care to children.
It started with the Chiefs and has expanded across the country to include the Detroit Lions, along with MLB teams, NHL teams and NBA teams.
In 2022, TeamSmile reported that it conducted 25 programs, served 4,498 children, and provided over $1.6 million in free dental care and oral health education.
“That’s why it’s a good union because we get the players to come out and talk to the kids about their teeth,” Busch said.
“It’s just like a whole new world opens up to them about how important dental health is to their physical health and how they perform on the field — because if you have inflammation in your mouth and tooth decay, it spreads to the rest of your body, and it will affect muscle repair and recovery, because of the inflammatory markers that it creates.”
As the players go through their NFL careers, having access to top-tier dental care has already boosted their life as a professional athlete, and they’re encouraging everyone they know to attempt to take care of their oral health as well.
“It’ll change your life,” Taylor said. “It’ll be one of the best decisions you make.”
“It’s legit,” Gay said. “I really think people should look into it if they haven’t already.”