I’ve got a dentist. To call him a dentist is an understatement of what this guy’s done. He’s used every single plateau he can to see how we can leapfrog on to the next one. This guy has been on everything from The Doctors, Larry King, Oprah, Access Hollywood, E!, Extra, Entertainment Tonight. He’s been referred to as the Michael Jordan of dentistry. The fact that he also had a lot to do with the tooth whitening products of Zoom and Brite Smile. Who cares? He’s got a best-selling book on the New York Times and he’s been knighted. None of that matters because he’s used everything he’s ever done to benefit kids. There was a great lesson in this, especially at this time. Check out Dr. Bill Dorfman and what makes him tick. Dr. Bill, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Steve.
For anyone that doesn’t know you, you are an interesting cat that’s taken an industry, and to say you pushed it as far as you possibly can is probably an understatement. Many people may have seen you on every TV show from E!, Extra, Access Hollywood, Oprah. You are the TV dentist and probably one of the most famous dentists on the planet. Is to call you a dentist accurate?
I took dentistry as a springboard to a lot of different careers. I’m the only dentist in the world who’s a New York Times best-selling dentist on a book on dentistry. I was the only dentist on ABC’s Extreme Makeover. I was the featured dentist and still am on the CBS show The Doctors. I’ve had an eclectic career and when I saw back in 1989 at the inception of tooth whitening, that tooth whitening could be so much better than it was. I built a company with my best friend that became the largest tooth whitening company in the world. We invented Zoom and acquired Brite Smile and grew that company literally from zero. We were two broke guys who built a company from zero to over $1.3 billion in sales. To say I’ve had an unusual career in the industry, it’s okay.
Let’s do a flashback because you mentioned word broke there, did you come from the silver spoons of Beverly Hills? How did you grow up?
Steve, like you, I grew up poor, but unlike you, I wasn’t bitter about it. I was stupid. I didn’t know any better. It’s funny. I’ll never forget when I went to UCLA, I grew up in Granada Hills in the Valley. All my friends had Chevy and Ford. We grew up in a modest middle to a low-income area. I get to UCLA and my roommate has a BMW. I’m like, “What is that?” I never even heard of a BMW. I grew up incredibly sheltered. I know now how poor we were. I just didn’t know it as a kid. We were rich in love and support. I had a happy and great childhood. I realize I couldn’t have anything unless I bought it. I started working at the age of six. I pulled weeds in the neighborhood and I became a gardener. I did that until I could get a legal job. I started working at Ralphs Supermarket. I worked as a janitor at my mom’s nursery school. I did that until college. I worked all the way through college as well. I’m incredibly appreciative of UCLA. I got alumni scholarship there or I wouldn’t ever have been a dentist.
Did you wake up as a kid and a young lad and go, “I want to be a dentist?”
Yeah. Here’s what happened. I was about three and I was playing rough house in the living room and I fell. I hit my baby teeth hard that instead of knocking them out, it pushed them back up into the socket. I had to have multiple oral surgeries. Most normal kids would have been scared to death. I was intrigued by the whole thing. I started coming in and even as a little kid, I started whining to shadow the dentist and I thought, “This is cool. I want to do this for people one day.” It never wavered. Even when I was a little kid when we were playing Army man, I was the medic.
You’re the guy that you take something and then you go, “I’ve acquired that. Where can this lead me?” You didn’t just get into dentistry and I know a lot of dentists. Let’s be blunt in America, in the medical industry and the dental industry, there can be a lot of money in there. Personally, I have a lot of clients from around the planet that are dentists and they do well from it and they’re happy with that. You went further. You saw how you could stretch this. When did you first decide that, “Hang on, TV’s a great platform for me to take me from where I am now to expose me to millions?” When was that happening?
Let me back up a little bit and there’s something we haven’t talked about yet. I run a motivational leadership program for high school and college kids called LEAP. It teaches kids age 15 to 25 the skills to be successful in life. This is a nonprofit I set up. We do it every July at UCLA. It’s a week-long program and the kids live there. These are A and B students from all over the world and 60% of them have come from impoverished families. I go out and I raised money so these kids can come to the program. I believe in brainwashing kids, it works.
The two things that I try to brainwash them with and what that I’ve learned empirically in my life and practice are these. One, “Don’t wait for opportunities in life, make them.” If I hear another Millennial walk up to me and tell me how they’re waiting for the universe to show them something, I want to shake them and say, “Have you noticed the universe is busy with Corona right now? The universe doesn’t care about you. You need to care about you.” Number two, and this is even more important, when you get an opportunity, don’t take it, master it. That’s a big difference.
Let’s back up. This was 2003 I get a phone call from ABC. This is the birth of reality TV and they wanted to do a reality TV show called Extreme Makeover. I didn’t have much TV experience, just a bit. They told me what the show is about. I was a little concerned in the beginning that it might not come off right. I wanted to make sure that they cared about these people. After speaking to the late Howard Schultz, not Starbucks, Howard Schultz but the creator of Extreme Makeover. I realized that their heart was in the right place and so I agreed to do the show. When I shot the pilot, all they had me do on the first three patients is with Zoom Whitening. I was an owner in the company. It didn’t cost me anything. I didn’t charge ABC.
The show aired and we got huge ratings. They immediately picked us up for season one, 22 episodes. The first patient, first episode, first season, the patient needed twenty porcelain veneers, 10 uppers, 10 lowers. At the time we were charging $1,500 a veneer. That’s a $30,000 case. I was to send the invoice to ABC, get their approval, then do the work. I sent the invoice to ABC and they had a meltdown. They’re like, “Doc, are you kidding?” I’m like, “No, what?” “We had no idea that dentistry was this expensive.” I said, “It is. What do you want me to do?” They said, “Can you do three veneers?” I’m like, “No. Every other two? No. She needs twenty.” At LEAP, I call these life-defining moments and sometimes you plan them. Sometimes they just happen. This was the just happened one. I said, “I’ll do all the dentistry for free under the following conditions. Number one, I’m the only dentist.”
I didn’t want them to have some hack on there and then people think that the dentistry was bad. “Number two, Zoom gets highlighted in every show.” This was the inception of reality TV that would never happen now, but then they’re like, “Okay.” “Number three, I don’t want to have to pay a $20,000 lab bill. You have to say daVinci Veneers on every episode.” They said, “Fine.” I said, “Number four, I need to make this pledge to you. I am a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. We have cosmetic dentists all over the country. I will find a brother or sister dentists, send that patient to that dentist in their own hometown because these people came from all over the country and get that dentist to pledge to take care of them for at least a year after the show.” I didn’t want them going home and then having everything fall apart. They said, “Fine.” The first episode comes out and I’m watching it and I’m mortified. I was not made for TV.
My poor little grandma, she’s passed since now, but this woman never said a mean or evil word to anybody. I knew I was bad, but I called grandma right after it aired because I need to hear something good. I’m like, “Grams, did you watch?” She says, “Of course, I watch, darling.” I said, “What do you think?” She goes, “Very skinny.” I’m like, “What? What do you think about the show?” “You look very skinny, darling.” I’m like, “That’s the best thing you can say?” She said, “Yeah.” I then said, “You are an idiot if you don’t take advantage of this opportunity.” What did I do? I took acting classes, hosting classes, teleprompting class. I hired a media trainer to beat me up.
She would have professionals like you sit in a room with me and do mock interviews that were filmed and then I would painfully sit there and watch how bad I was. She would tell me, “Sit up, do this, do that.” I worked and I worked. Why? I realized that this was a golden opportunity, and was it? It was. Our company started off, we did $2 million, $4 million, $8 million and we plateaued it about $75 million in sales around 2002, 2003 we couldn’t break that. Why? There were competing products like Crest Whitestrips and all these other things. The year I went on Extreme Makeover, we jumped from $76 million to $101 million. The next year, $136 million, and the following year, almost $200 million in sales. Did it pay off?
Do you think the TV is as powerful now or do you think the movement is into the social?
TV was more powerful then. Look at shows like American Idol. When American Idol was in its prime, it had the greatest viewership of any show in the history of TV. Except for the Super Bowl or things like that, which are once a year. There’s a lot more competition. I don’t think that it’s not powerful. It’s just diluted. Turn on Netflix, there are 75 great things you can watch. Showtime, HBO, there’s a lot of competition out there. When we did Extreme Makeover, the big networks rule TV and we have huge numbers.
You saw an opportunity and you didn’t take it, you conquered it. I love that and that’s more than likely going to be the soundbite for this episode so be prepared on that. That’s a great viewpoint. You then continued. Was that at the same time you were getting in on all the talk shows, on the E’s and the Oprah’s. Is that the same time that you were doing that?
Here’s another one. I was approached by a good friend of mine, Paul Lombardi, who was an on-air news reporter for NY1 News and writer. He said, “Doc, you have to write a book.” I don’t know anything about writing a book. He goes, “I’ll write it with you.” He moved into my house in LA from New York. He took a month off of work and every night he would interview me for 1 or 2 hours and we wrote this book called Billion Dollar Smile. Before we wrote the book, I got a great literary agent, Jen Miller who works with Dr. Phil. She works with celebrity self-help type of people. They were all excited. I left the meeting and then I called her up. I said, “Jen, I don’t want to write a book.” She goes, “You don’t?” I said, “No, I want to write a bestseller.” She goes, “Okay.” I did some research and I found a guy named Michael Drew who has a company called Promote A Book. I sat down with him and I said, “I have no interest in writing a book unless it will be a bestseller. What do I need to do?”
He went through all the different things that you needed to make a bestseller. At the end of the day, back then and now things have changed. The algorithm to hit the New York Times Bestseller List was you needed to hit 20,000 books in the first two weeks. I thought about it for a second and I said, “Michael, I have 100,000 dentists that buy products from me every month. We rate them A, B, C, D, E, F. Coincidentally, our A and B doctors, our best and bread and butter doctors are our 20,000 doctors. “What if I buy them all a book?” It only counts for the New York Times Bestseller List if it’s at full price. It has to be through Amazon or Barnes & Noble or whatever. I don’t think you could do it now but back then, you could do that.
I bought 20,000 books from my best customers and thanked them for everything they had done. I told them that all the proceeds for the book were going to go to children’s charity and if they wanted to buy more books, instead of paying $20 a book, they could buy them half price for $10 a book. We sold another 100,000 books. I hit the New York Times Bestseller List right out of the gate. What did that do? That got me on all the talk shows. I got to do The Tonight Show. I got to do all these different shows, which was awesome. That was the goal. The real goal for me writing the book was also to raise money for LEAP because all of the proceeds from the book went to LEAP.
There seems to be a common thread of you not taking the opportunity. You dominate in it. You conquered it but this underlying thread each time that says, “I’ve got here. Now I’m going to help here.” It all goes back to LEAP. I live in Los Angeles as well, and you can agree on this. There are a lot of sheltered, shallow people in this neck of the woods. It’s life for it. You’ve had this common thread all the way through that hasn’t forgotten where you came from, the help you needed. You’ve been paramount. Even speaking to your clients and going, “Help me within LEAP.” You’ve been dragging them in to support your cause. Why is it powerful to you for this desire to help kids?
He who helps receives the greatest gift and I’m selfish. To me, there’s nothing that makes me happier than knowing that I’ve helped somebody. I guess I’m selfish. It’s a weird thing. My partner in Discus came from one of the wealthiest families in LA. His father was Fred Hayman who started Giorgio Cosmetics. Robert grew up in the cosmetic industry with the silver spoon in his mouth. He was an MBA from Boston and had a background in marketing and finance. I had a background in dentistry and learned marketing. Together we created the dream team.
The thing I give Robert so much credit for is from the second we started making money, we gave back. I did a cool TEDx Talk on this, how every time in my life that I honestly, truly and only intended to give back, I ended up making a lot of money from it and it was crazy. Let’s talk about when I met Robert. I’m at the gym. I’m a big fitness fluff and a woman walks up to me, I’m at Sports Club/LA and she says, “Would you like to help raise money for children’s cancer research?” I said, “I would love to.” She goes, “You are a dentist.” I said, “Yes.” She goes, “You’re single, right?” I’m like, “Yeah.” She goes, “We’re doing a bachelor auction and I need ten bachelors. We’re going to have 1,000 women and they’re going to buy you and go on a date and the money goes to children’s cancer research.”
Honestly, the auction part was stupid and all that but the good thing out of it is I met Robert. We’ve been lifelong best friends since the beginning of this. Together, we built a company from zero to over $1.3 billion in sales and there were a lot of beautiful things that happen along the way. Many years ago, a man named Greg Anderson and his brother Steve Anderson called us up and said, “We want to do a campaign called Smiles For Life with Garth Brooks. What we’re going to do is put out public service announcements.”
Eventually Garth and I did with some other celebrities and we’re going to tell people, “If you’d like to brighten your smile and help a child smile for life, call 18-774-SMILES. You’ll be directly connected to a dental office. The dental offices are going to donate their time and you’ll write a check to Smiles For Life instead of the dental office.” They said to us, “Would you sell us your whitening product?” We have the number one whitening product at the time at cost. We said, “We’ll call you back.” Fifteen minutes later we called them back and we said, “Absolutely not. We’ll give it to you.” They said, “What?” We said, “We’ll donate.”
To date, Smiles For Life has raised over $44 million for children’s charities. This is the flip side, those doctors in the Crown Council who participated in this program were our A and B dentist. We establish such a close relationship with these men and women and they were grateful for donating our product that every product that we made, they bought. Our company exploded. Our sales exploded as a result of our relationship with these great doctors who were grateful to be able to participate in this program and grateful for the fact that we donated. Our intention was never that. Our intention was to help raise money for kids. When you give like that, call it karma or whatever, it comes back.
I’m noticing that a lot of the people that are around you, from the sounds of it, you’re A and B’s, they liked to ride the train with you. They seem to not buy into just the product and what you do but you and your methodology, focus, energy, and what you stand for. You seem to build a family. How do you keep that family tight within all of that? You’ve got doctors all over America and all over the world, you mentioned in Perth as well. How do you stay in contact with these people? Is it important for you to do that?
From the business sense, we were in constant communication with these doctors. We sold that business to Philips in 2000. It’s funny because one of the things that I preach at LEAP with my kids right from the get-go, I tell them, “If you want to succeed in life, you need to be a ten. You need to walk like a ten, talk like a ten, and more importantly, surround yourself with other kids that are tens. If you’re trying to be a ten and all your friends are twos, it lowers your average.” We had this whole thing we call The Ten Culture. For a lot of kids, it’s beautiful because this is the first time in their life that anybody has ever told them, “You’re a ten. Act like a ten, walk like a ten, talk like a ten.” This is a crazy thing.
We ended up selling Discus Dental to Philips on 10/10/10 at 10:00 AM. The merger documents came into my office on October 10th, 2010 at 9:00 AM. I waited until exactly 10:00 so it would be a perfect ten day because that year at LEAP, I wanted to tell the kids, “Do you want to know what a perfect ten day looks?” I knew I have a comfortable life as a dentist. Dentistry is one of those careers you can pretty much bank and you’re not going to go hungry. I never knew that my career could be what it’s been. When I speak to dental students and I do this all over the world and I never charged a dental school.
I always go and I speak for free because I feel like it’s part of my giving back. The first thing I tell dental students when I walk in front of a room with them is, “I’m not standing here to boast or brag. I’m standing here because one of the greatest secrets of my success is to copy genius. I’m going to share with you all the genius that I copied to get to where I am so you too can copy that because I wish nothing less than for you to have the career that I’ve had in dentistry because it has far exceeded every expectation I ever had going in.” I love giving that lecture and I do it all over the world.He who helps receives the greatest gift. Click To Tweet
The LEAP is just to UCLA.
It takes a whole year to put this program together. The thing that’s blown me away about LEAP, number one is how it changes kids’ lives. Number two, and this is something that you probably weren’t going to expect me to say, is the community support. I’m fortunate in that I get to treat a lot of high profile people. Every single one of them that I’ve asked to come and speak at LEAP and participate has said yes. I’ve never had a no. Anthony Hopkins, Mark Wahlberg, Usher, Eva Longoria, Michael Strahan, Apolo Ohno, of the most-decorated a Winter Olympian in history, Paula Abdul, every year, Jonathan Bennett, huge businessmen and women, and Dennis Quaid, the Founder of the Hyperloop.
My friend, Scott Painter who has Fair, the largest car company in the world. I’ve asked Elon Musk. It’s unbelievable, and the whole goal is for them to share the secrets of their success and to be accessible to these kids as mentors. The program culminates on Friday with something we call a Mentor Workshop where the kids get an opportunity to sit at a table with mentors. I have doctors, lawyers, screenwriters, actors, actresses, and firefighter, you name it. The kids get to sit at a table and fire away questions and ask people. Hopefully, you’ll be able to come the next time we do it since you’re an LA, Steve. I’d love to have you. It’s a beautiful experience.
Coronavirus has thrown a wrench in a lot of things in 2020. You were mentioning that 2020 is virtual, but how can people stay tuned on LEAP? Give us the contact details. Let us know how they can find out more about it.
The first thing is, you could go to our website, www.LEAPFoundation.com. Secondly, like you, I launched a podcast and to my surprise, the thing exploded. It’s called Meet the Mentor. I worked with a brilliant man who helped me put this out there. What I didn’t know, and in retrospect I should have, is when you launch a podcast with Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Kathy Bates, Paula Abdul, you get a lot of eyeballs. Plus, I did a big seminar series in Poland. We’re number one in Poland. We’re number two in Finland. We’re number three in Iceland.
It’s crazy, but we’re in the top 143 countries worldwide and we’re 94th out of those 47,000 in my category in the US. We got a lot of traction and what it is, it’s me interviewing these people, finding out what the secrets of their success are. The thing that makes my podcasts a little bit different than other ones out there is I’ll ask people like Anthony Hopkins will say, “If I’m an eighteen-year-old student watching or listening, what do I need to do to have a career like you?” I asked them to outline a step-by-step plan so students walk away with an agenda like, “I need to take these classes and these classes.” That’s a little bit of the angle that we use on it. It’s a lot of fun.
Dr. Bill, you’ve been an absolute pleasure to chat with. Is there a way apart from LEAP that people can follow you? Do you have a website? Do you have somewhere where you would like them to go? Would you like them to find you on Meet The Mentor podcast?
I’m easy to find. It’s all under Dr. Bill Dorfman. On Instagram, I have about one million followers. It’s @DrBillDorfman. The same on Facebook and Twitter. To be honest with you, I don’t do much with Facebook and Twitter, but I’m active on Instagram. If you ever want to reach me, you can DM me on Instagram. I promise I answer every single DM ever.
This has been an absolute pleasure. LEAP is phenomenal. I love the way that you’ve conquered opportunities rather than taking them. I’m open if you ever need anyone for LEAP. Thank you very much for mentioning that. You’ve been a rock star. There are going to be a lot of people that are going to benefit from this. Thanks for coming on the show.
Thanks for having me, Steve. It’s nice to meet you.
That’s it for another episode. I hope you enjoyed it. You know the usual drill. Share it and tell people about it. Jump on Apple and put a review. Don’t be selfish, spread the wealth. I look forward to sharing with you again. Until the next time, be safe.
Cosmetic dentist Dr. Bill Dorfman is responsible for creating dazzling smiles for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. He has authored two books, The Smile Guide and the New York Times bestseller Billion Dollar Smile. A regular on the lecture circuit, Dr. Dorfman is as passionate about teaching dental care as he is about practicing it.
Dr. Bill is most recognized from the ABC hit show, “Extreme Makeover,” and currently a recurring guest host on the Emmy winning daytime talk show, “The Doctors.” He graduated from UCLA in 1980 and received his dental degree from the University of the Pacific in San Francisco three years later. Upon graduation, he completed a two-year residency at a dental hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, and then returned to the United States to establish his private practice in aesthetic and general dentistry in Los Angeles.
The busy doctor juggles a successful career, company, and television appearances and has won copious awards for his outstanding work. His company, Discus Dental, has launched Zoom! and Brite Smile, two revolutionary in-office whitening systems that use a safe and effective, light-activated gel to whiten teeth by 8 to 10 shades in an hour. They also produce Nite White, Day White, and Breath Rx and was recently purchased by the Dutch company, Philips Electronics.
Throughout his accomplished career, Dr. Dorfman has been committed to donating dental care and assistance to charities such as Smiles for Life, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The Children’s Dental Center, Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids Foundation and Los Angeles’ Battered Women’s Shelter. He also co-founded LEAP a non-profit motivational and development program for high school and college students.
Additional information may be found at Dr. Bill Dorfman’s official website: