Orthodontics resident marks “firsts” milestones

Beatrice Williams, DDS, is a triple Tar Heel.

Beatrice Williams, DDS, with her dog, Faith.

Beatrice Williams, DDS, an orthodontics resident at UNC Adams School of Dentistry, is on a journey of firsts. She’s among the first generation in her family to go to college, the first to go to dental school and the first to become an orthodontist. With so many firsts, she often relies on faith and spirituality to keep her motivated and Faith, her Australian Labradoodle, for comfort.

Faith’s name stemmed from a mantra Williams reiterated throughout her life – “fear and faith cannot coexist.” Serendipitously, an unexpected run in with a resident’s service dog at the Adams School of Dentistry orthodontics clinic, just before the COVID 19 pandemic, inspired Williams to get the first dog in her family.

A child of immigrants

Williams’ family is from Ghana and later immigrated to Northern Virginia when Williams was a young child. Growing up in a new country with just her nuclear family taught Williams the importance of initiative and perseverance. “I cannot even begin to comprehend the sacrifices my parents made to provide opportunities for their children. Their relentless grit and dedication served as a consistent reminder throughout my educational journey that it always seems impossible until done.”

Williams with Ms. Beverly, a teacher who inspired her love of education.

Williams credits her love of education to Ms. Beverly, a preschool teacher and ally for her immigrant family. She gave rides home and also helped instill a love of learning in Williams that continues to this day. Now, Ms. Beverly proudly attends graduations and is a lifelong family friend who has even returned to Ghana with the family.

Triple Tar Heel

While considering college, Williams, now a triple Tar Heel, thought she would be a medical doctor and googled top pre-health schools before coming to UNC. She was a Carolina Covenant Scholar and worked with the Carolina First program, where she met ASOD’s Ron Strauss, DMD, PhD. She had been reconsidering medicine as a career due to the lack of work-life balance she witnessed during her shadowing experiences. Strauss guided her in the switch to pre-dental during her sophomore year, and as she became immersed in her dental studies, she started to see her future solidify and her path become more clear.

“I never thought about being a dentist. I didn’t often see people of color in doctoral or executive roles. The lack of representation can often be deterring at times when you’re at predominately white institutions. It wasn’t until I found allies and mentors as a pre-dental student that I saw myself in [dentists and other teachers], and they showed me I could do it,” she said.

Williams at her white coat ceremony with her parents, David and Beatrice Williams Sr.

She could definitely do it, and even achieved another first along the way. She was the first Black woman with a 4.0 here and has joined the ranks of only 400 other female Black orthodontists in the nation, an achievement made more special during Black History Month and next month’s Women’s History Month.

“Black history is not limited to one month. We are making history every day. We are overcoming systemic barriers every day. February is a great opportunity to support and celebrate the efforts of African Americans in this country, but this allyship and support should not be limited to the shortest month of the year,” she said.

Creating accessible, equitable care

Williams with Jennifer Webster-Cyriaque, DDS, PhD.

As an orthodontist, Williams hopes to change the “old boys club” perceptions of the specialty and be a role model for other Black women who don’t see themselves in professions like this. She recalls loving her orthodontist and was inspired to specialize in orthodontics because it was the one place she could feel like any other kid.

“I want to use my passions, knowledge and background to not only provide excellent patient-centered-care, but also to make orthodontic care more accessible to families who never thought orthodontic treatment would be an option for them,” she said.

Williams hopes to continue changing lives and making progress in her career. She will achieve another first today – defending her thesis titled “In Their Own Words: Families’ experiences with tooth autotransplantation for replacement of maxillary incisors in children.” The research focuses on families with children who have lost their front tooth at a young age and have undergone tooth autotransplantation, the movement of one tooth to another position within the same person. This alternative for implants in young children is widely used in Europe and Williams’ study team is among the first in the United States to evaluate experiences with this procedure.

Endless possibilities

Williams celebrating a friend and colleague’s birthday.

And Williams is nothing if not full of possibilities; she likes that orthodontics affords her the time to pursue other interests in her career, such as service work with the American Association of Orthodontists, mentoring others and working on her efforts to build dental clinics in Ghana, a passion project helped along by her pastor father, that grows in scope by the day.

She stays busy, never forgetting the people and efforts that got her to this place, and she hopes to serve other prospective students in that role, as well, serving on panels, appearing on podcasts and answering social media messages from those seeking pre-dental advice.

“Being an advocate is about supporting people, and putting the money and time where your mouth is. It’s about fostering development and uplifting people, not punching down but reaching out to help people,” she said.

Williams is a strong advocate for her profession and brought her message to Washington, D.C.

A full life

She doesn’t limit herself to just work interests, though, as Williams has a full plate of ideas and activities to explore. During her last year of dental school, she obtained her real estate license and has just recently learned how to swim. Her next hobby is becoming fluent in Spanish and looks forward to continuing her passions for event planning and presentations.

“I’ve long believed complacency is the enemy of progress. My parents always pushed us to make the most out of the opportunity each day affords us, and I always strived to reach my maximum potential,” she said.

Williams has made lifelong friends and key connections during her 11 years at UNC; students, faculty members and leaders are trusted confidantes and skilled practitioners who support her in all her efforts in her career and her personal life.

“I’ve been a Tar Heel for 11 years, and I think about all the people that helped me get here. It truly takes a village and I’m extremely grateful. I’m excited for what the next chapter in my life has in store, and I cannot wait to pay it forward along the way.”

Williams is thrilled to be joining Carolina Orthodontics and Children’s Dentistry in Fayetteville in June.