Investing in tomorrow’s leaders.
An interview with Dr. Bill Dorfman.
By Ken Shelton
Dr. Bill Dorfman is a leading celebrity dentist and an extraordinary entrepreneur and business leader. He founded a leading manufacturer of cosmetic dentistry products, is a NYT Bestselling author, Guinness Book World Record holder, and philanthropist. In addition to his cosmetic dentistry practice in LA, he founded Discus Dental and helped launch cosmetic dentistry products like ZOOM!, Day White, Nite White and BreathRx. His enthusiasm, determination and vision have made cosmetic dentistry mainstream.
Bill is best known as the celebrity dentist from the ABC hit show, “Extreme Makeover” and the Emmy winning daytime talk show, “The Doctors.” He has been featured nationally and internationally on dozens of talk shows and magazines.
Dr. Dorfman practices all aspects of dentistry and specializes in creating beautiful smiles with cutting-edge cosmetic dentistry. He is responsible for creating (or restoring) smiles for many of Hollywood’s brightest stars. As the featured dentist on Extreme Makeover, he performed amazing dental transformations. He now serves as the top guest co-host on the new syndicated daytime talk show, “The Doctors.” He is a renowned lecturer and author of the best-selling cosmetic dentistry book, The Smile Guide and NY Times bestseller Billion Dollar Smile.
He is an energetic inventor and brilliant entrepreneur who has brought award-winning innovations to dentistry. As a 1980 graduate from UCLA Dr. Bill was honored with the prestigious “UCLA Outstanding Senior Award.” He received his dental degree in 1983 from the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, one of the youngest graduates ever to receive his doctorate degree. Upon graduation, he completed a two-year residency in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1985, he returned to the United States and established his private practice Century City Aesthetic Dentistry.
Bill is a member of the American Dental Association and one of only 33 Fellows in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. In addition, he was the founder and program coordinator of P.A.C.-live, a continuing education program to teach practicing dentists state of the art cosmetic dental skills on live patients, at the University of the Pacific Dental School. He has been recognized as the “Best Aesthetic Dentist in LA” in Los Angeles Magazine and, by age 42, was awarded two lifetime achievement awards from the largest academies in dentistry (now eight lifetime achievement awards.
Dr. Dorfman is committed both to educating the public about dentistry and to giving back to the community. In association with The Crown Council of Dentistry, he has offered Discus Dental’s assistance in donating all of the whitening materials for its annual four-month charity campaign, Smiles for Life. Each year, Crown Council dentists donate their time and services to offer consumers tooth whitening at a lower rate. Then 100% of the money earned is donated to country singer Garth Brooks’ “Teammates for Kids Foundation,” which gives to children’s charities across the U.S. Thus far, they have donated more than $28 million to more than 115 children’s charities, including St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and The Children’s Dental Center.
In addition, Dr. Bill Dorfman is dedicated to aiding the many graduates of Los Angeles’ Battered Women’s Shelter, a downtown refuge that helps survivors of harrowing physical violence heal and rejoin the world. Since 1997, Dr. Bill has helped restore the smiles of abused wives, rape victims, former prostitutes, drug addicts and unfortunate women at no charge in order to assist them on their path to confidence. He recently traveled to South Africa to help raise money and awareness for Tomorrow’s Trust—a NPO that helps orphan children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Bill continues to change the future by investing in tomorrow’s leaders. In addition to helping raise millions for children’s charities, he co-founded the LEAP Foundation—Leadership Excellence and Accelerating Potential—a motivational, leadership program for high school and college students designed to help them succeed in life. LEAP is a summer scholarship program for students and young adults to help obtain valuable life skills that they wouldn’t otherwise learn in a traditional classroom setting. Skill such as business etiquette, time management, making a first impression are all taught through seminars, celebrity speakers and mentors. His humanitarian and philanthropic involvement has lead to his recent recognition by his alma mater, receiving the 2009 UCLA Community Service Award– one of the top honors.
Dr. Bill is also active in the world of fitness and beauty and has been a repeat judge for the Miss USA beauty pageant. His personal fitness regime includes a strict, healthy diet, and he loves to water and snow ski, bike, climb, swim and scuba dive.
When away from his busy Century City Aesthetic Dentistry office, he enjoys spending time with his three daughters, Anna, Charlotte and Georgia.
LE: Why are so you high on life and leadership?
Bill: Well, the alternative—being down on life—isn’t very fun, is it? While I work primarily as a cosmetic dentist, I realize that much of what I’m really selling is enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem, which have a lot to do with self-leadership.
LE: What do you do in your Non-Profit LEAP Foundation—LEAP being an acronym for Leadership Excellence Accelerating Potential?
Bill: Basically what we do at LEAP is teach self-leadership skills to high school and college students, ages 15 to 24. They come to UCLA campus for a week, and we teach them skills they need to succeed in life—for example, time management, money management, motivation, public speaking, etiquette, writing resumes, applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs. These are skills that these students need but rarely learn in school.
LE: Why are you doing this?
Bill: About 20 years ago, there was a program like this run by a good friend of mine, Walter Haley, who has since passed away. He invited me to come every year, serve as a mentor and speak to young adults about how I started my company and became successful. I loved doing it. I felt that it made an impact. I would see these kids go out and conquer the world. When Walter passed away, I felt a void in my life. So I contacted his business partner, and together we cofounded LEAP in 2005. We have about 500 students a year. My feeling is that if you pass through this life without having made the world a better place, what is the sense of being here? I want to help make this world a better pace by influencing the lives of future leaders.
LE: What difference has LEAP made in the lives of these students?
Bill: Oh, my gosh, you can’t even imagine the difference. For example, one of the skills we teach is Expressing Appreciation. When students come to the program we give them a pad of “I appreciate” notes. Every time somebody does something with them that is worthy of being appreciated, they are encouraged to write and send a note. By the end of LEAP week, I receive notes of appreciation from about 400 of the 500 students. A typical note goes something like this: “Dr. Bill, I can’t believe how LEAP has changed my life. You and your team are amazing.” And I know they are sincere—not just making stuff up. I watch these kids go through the program and see miracles happen. Their parents call and say, “I don’t know what you did to my kid that week, but thank you—it was great.”
LE: You have facilitated “extreme makeovers” in cosmetic dentistry, but this sounds like a special kind of “extreme makeover”. How do you account for the dramatic before-and-after difference?
Bill: Well, first I need to say that the “Extreme Makeover” has been off the air for some time. I am currently appearing on a CBS Emmy Award-winning show called “The Doctors”. And I just started filming a new series for Lifetime called “Smile”. So, yes, the makeover process is similar. When we do these big dental makeovers, I see how it changes these patients’ lives. Similarly, LEAP changes our students’ lives. We help them get on and stay on a good path and to get rid of the “turkeys” in their lives—the people who are bringing them down—and we try to surround them with positive influencers. What we do so well in LEAP is analogous to the adage: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We don’t just give LEAP students a fish each day—we give them a fishing pole and teach them how to fish to feed themselves and their families for a lifetime.
LE: You claim that in your cosmetic dental practice, you are restoring to people their most valuable asset—their smile. You likely won’t be surprised to hear that “appearance” is the top criteria in the selection and promotion of people into leadership positions. How are you restoring people to their best or real self?
Bill: Well, sure, I mean, we are all born with teeth. Something has to go really bad for you not to have teeth . . . along with a smile to showcase them. Many of the people who come in to my dental office have no teeth, or few teeth or badly damaged teeth. So, yes, we are restoring their teeth and, in the process, restoring their self-confidence. Look, imagine that you have an accident today and lose your front teeth. How would you feel walking around and smiling at people? How would you feel at work? Even if you work at the cash register at McDonald’s, are you going to smile at people when you have no front teeth? No! So I understand why people with damaged teeth don’t want to smile. And when you don’t smile, people tend to think that something is seriously wrong with you. They don’t realize that maybe you are ashamed of your smile. They may think that you are unfriendly, conceited, shy or insecure. They don’t think positive things. So often, simply by restoring somebody’s smile, enabling them to socialize and function normally, we change their lives immediately. By restoring their smile, we restore other things: their self-image, self-esteem, and social confidence.
LE: Do you see LEAP restoring the smiles of the faces of your students?
Bill: You know, it’s tough today being age 15 to 24. We not only restore their smiles, we often hear from many of them, the vast majority of them, comments like: “Dr. Bill, LEAP has changed my life”—and I know it did. And once in a while, we hear: “LEAP has saved my life” – and I know it did. Some kids come into LEAP with no confidence—they have no support structure, nobody in the world that they feel comfortable with. And they are living on the edge, on the verge of taking their life, or wasting their life. And so, they say, “This program saved my life. I don’t think I could have gone on . . . until I met you and your staff, developed a support group and learned the skills you teach.”
LE: When I called your office today, I listened to a recorded message to the effect that . . . ‘if you don’t like what you see in the mirror we can help’. I thought of Michael Jackson’s hit song, “Man in the Mirror” and of the tragic end to his life. Does LEAP help these young people to pass the “mirror test”—to like what they see in the mirror?
Bill: Yes, we consciously try to do that for them. I’ve seen kids who, when they come to us, look like they are afraid of their own shadow—or hate their own image in the mirror. By the time they leave, they no longer have that look of fear or hate or sorrow.
LE: How to do change the look on their faces?
Bill: The first thing we do is put them in a group with 10 other students their age, so they are always with people. Loneliness is a horrible thing, and a lot of people young and old suffer from it. At LEAP you are never alone—you are always in a group of peers—and hopefully the friendships you make in the program last a lifetime. I’ve seen it! In fact, my wife and I just witnessed another wedding of a couple who met at LEAP. So, yes, LEAP has the potential to be a real life-changer for many of these students.
LE: Having served as editor of Leadership Excellence magazine for 30 years, I too have witnessed the similar accelerated development of confidence and self-esteem in the best of leadership development programs. How can young people best boost their confidence and self-esteem?
Bill: The short answer, if you are 15 to 24, is to experience LEAP. By the way, if you want more information on LEAP, go to www.LEAPfoundation.com. This website will give you much more insight into what we do. I think one of the most important factors in building your self-confidence is surrounding yourself with people who elevate you as opposed to bring you down—having a caring support group that lets you know when you are on track and off track and gives you positive affirmations when you are doing good things. I believe that having such support makes a world of difference.
LE: Is it possible for people who don’t fit the LEAP profile to simulate such accelerated personal and professional development?
Bill: There are many good programs out there, but I’m bias: there is no substitute for LEAP. So, if you are a parent, coach, teacher or friend and want to make a positive difference in the life of some young person, please sponsor them and send them to LEAP. I promise you that if you send me your son or daughter, I will send you back a better son or daughter.
LE: You have a good track record of doing just that, not only on these “makeover” shows but in your dental office every day.
Bill: That’s what I try to do. We all have our lot in life, and I feel that mine has been the smile; in fact, I just shot this show called “Smile” for Lifetime, which is all about changing people’s lives for the better. It’s like “Extreme Makeover” but deals only with the smile. This show was proposed to me several years ago and I said, “I can’t imagine people will want to watch smiles being made over all the time.” So I passed on the original show, which oddly enough I am doing now, and talked to them about a show I would rather do. I said: “I really want to change kids’ lives—and teach them how to change other kids’ lives so they pay it forward.” Through these discussions, we developed my new show, called “The Dr. Bill Show”, which we filmed this past summer. We’ll be taking it out though Netflix and other channels soon. Perhaps it will be a way to help more people accelerate the development of their inherent potential. I believe that people can (and should) change their lives and improve their leadership at any age.