Secrets to success with Bill Dorfman

Secrets to success Bill DorfmanToday Jana Denzel speaks to Bill Dorfman about his journey in dentistry, how to overcome challenges and his advice to younger dentists.  

Dr Bill Dorfman is widely recognised worldwide as a leading celebrity dentist. He is responsible for creating smiles for many of Hollywood’s brightest stars. In fact, Dr Dorfman has become a star in his own right as the featured dentist on the hit ABC series Extreme Makeover. Here he performs amazing dental transformations on the show’s participants, as well as a recurring guest co-host on the new Emmy-winning daytime CBS talk show The Doctors.

In addition, Dr Dorfman is a world-renowned lecturer and author of the best-selling cosmetic dentistry book, The Smile Guide and the NY Times bestseller Billion Dollar Smile.

As a man of many talents, why did you choose dentistry?

Bill Dorfman: I didn’t choose dentistry. Dentistry chose me. I was in rough housing at home. I fell down and hit my deciduous teeth so hard that instead of knocking them out, I put them right back up into the gums. Following this I had multiple surgeries in order to ensure that my permanent teeth would come in unaffected. We had a great family dentist, so instead of me being scared to death, I was intrigued by the whole thing.

I was not a normal kid, let me just start with that. A normal thing is for a kid to be scared of their dentist. I was never ever a normal kid. I thought, this is what I’m going to do, and that never wavered.

The first thing I tell dental students, and I’ve spoken at dental schools all over the world, is from my heart. ‘I hope for you all of the fulfilment and success that I got out of dentistry because it has exceeded every expectation I ever had.’ I use dentistry as a springboard to be a New York Times bestselling author to be on TV to educate the public and build a company. All these different things, they all came from Dentistry.

You also write books, give lectures, stay fit. At the age of 61, what motivates you to drive on so hard?

Bill Dorfman: First of all, fitness. I need to tell young dentists, if you don’t stay fit, you won’t have a long career.

I graduated in 1983. Eighty per cent of my graduating class is not practising today, and we’re all 61 years old. Why? Back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain.

The reason I became so passionate about fitness is because when I started doing dentistry, right in dental school, I started having pain in my shoulder and my neck. I realised that by working out, I actually felt good. So for me, it’s not about looking good. It’s about actually feeling good and being able to function and do all the stuff that I do.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Bill Dorfman: My biggest challenge was not really with dentistry. My biggest challenge was with life.

This is a really hard time for a lot of people right now, with what’s going on in the world and with COVID-19. My life was really chugging along at a really beautiful pace.

It was a beautiful spring day in in May 2007. I was driving along in my car and I heard this song from Five for Fighting – Superman. I thought: ‘Wow, that’s me, that’s my life’. Every phrase in that song was my life. I pulled over and I got choked up when I thought: ‘I need to just stop and smell the flowers.’

Two months later, my whole life flip-flopped 180 degrees. We had been working to sell Discus Dental for a year and the deal was basically done. But in the final moment the deal went south. They pulled the carpet from under me. That was bad.

Then I get a phone call from TMZ. That’s how I found out that my wife was leaving me. TMZ called and said: ‘Would you like to comment on your divorce?’

The third thing was one of my close family members was fighting for their life in hospital. It made everything else pale in comparison, but it was a really tough period for me.

Getting through it

Bill Dorfman: People ask: ‘How did you get through it?’ I would go to work and people would ask: ‘Why are you at work?’ What am I going to do?

I went to work and I did an all-hands-on-deck meeting with the whole office. I said: ‘People are going to come in here and say “Doc, how are you?” And I’m just going to lie and say I’m fine. I’m not fine. There is nothing fine right now. But I want you guys to all know what I’m going through because I need your help. I need your support.’ That was a hard thing for me to do because I never asked for help or support. That’s just not me.

For me, taking care of patients was therapeutic. I stopped thinking about all of my stuff and really focused on helping people. That was my medicine. And my team at the office, they’re amazing. I certainly wouldn’t have treated patients if I felt like I was compromised.

My family member recovered, and three years later, we sold the business to Phillips. It was a beautiful day in my life. I always knew as a dentist I’d make a good living, but I never thought I would make that kind of money in my life.

If you could have any dinner guest, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Bill Dorfman: I would say Jesus. I am not a Christian, I’m not religious at all. But the fact is that this one man had such a huge impact on our whole world for so many generations.

I would like to talk to the guy. I want to know what really happened.

As a New York Times bestselling author, what’s your favourite book and why did it captivate you so much?

Bill Dorfman: I’ve read Think and Grow Rich three times. The crazy thing is that I think it was written in the 40s, and it’s still so relevant.

I just read it again. They made a few adjustments from the original. But the only thing that I thought was obsolete – he makes the comment that men who wear hats to type will tend to go bald, and that’s the main reason why men go bald. That has nothing to do with the truth, but the basic fundamentals of that book for life, for business, for anything you do is spot on. I just I think it should be mandatory reading.

If you narrow down the three skills for success, what would they be?

Bill Dorfman: First of all, you need to get stuff done. So many people just dilly dally – just get stuff done, number one.

Number two, never fail. People say: ‘Oh that’s easy to say’. Well, it’s actually easy to do as well. Here’s the deal: if you try something, and it doesn’t come out the way you want, that’s not failure. That’s practise. You do it again and again and again if you have to. You only fail when you quit, so don’t quit. Be tenacious, be persistent, and don’t quit.

Number three, and this is one of the things that we teach at Leap, copy genius. Especially young dentists. When you go out into the world and you want to practice dentistry, the fastest way to become successful is to copy other dentists that are successful. Go out and shadow them, spend the day, spend the week with them. If you’re lucky, you could even get a mentor where you can go into their practice and really become part of the practice.

What do you do to remain positive? How do you remain so persistent and present?

Bill Dorfman: The reason why I embrace philanthropy so much is I honestly feel that he who gives, receives. The greatest gift is serving people, working on my patients, and it just makes me feel so good. Even if I’m really going through a tough time, taking that negative energy and putting it in a different compartment and then focusing on my patients is the most therapeutic thing in the world for me.

I think one of the most important things in life and in success is to compartmentalise. There are times when I’m at work and my kids call. They say: ‘Dad, can I buy this trip?’ I think: ‘Don’t call me at work and ask me about that. Of course, I love you. You’re the most important thing in my life. But that compartment is not a priority when I’m drilling on a patient.’ You really need to compartmentalise things and say: ‘I’m doing the most important thing right now.’

And for my employees, I don’t care if your husband or wife or partner yelled at you on the way to work, put that in a different compartment when you show up in my office. You don’t go to Disneyland and see the Mickey character take his hat off and then smoke a cigarette. Mickey is always happy, always smiling, always dancing. That’s what I expect from my employees. We all have stuff we go through in life. But put that in a compartment when you walk in my office, so that you’re happy, you’re pleasant, you’re productive, and you’re doing your job.

You have to put stuff aside sometimes and focus on what your mission is at that time.

What’s next for Dr Dorfman?

Bill Dorfman: I’m in a really great place in my career right now. I love what I do. I stopped doing a lot of lecturing because of the travel. If I travel now, I want to travel for fun, not business.

What’s next for me professionally? We’re launching a new big whitening product and I’m excited about this whitening product.

What is Leap Foundation, and why did you start it up?

Bill Dorfman: Leap is a motivational leadership program for high school and college kids between 15 to 25+. We teach kids skills to be successful in life. You go through school and nobody teaches success. You learn maths and sciences. Who teaches you networking, time management, money management, or public speaking?

Basically, Leap gives you a seven-year head start on life. If there are two things that I try to get the kids to embrace, it’s these:

  1. Don’t wait for opportunities in life, make them. If another millennial walks up to me telling me that they’re waiting for the universe to show them something, I’ll say: ‘Have you noticed that the universe is kind of busy? The universe doesn’t care about you’
  2. When you get an opportunity in life, don’t take it – master it. There’s a big difference.

For Leap Foundation this year, we are making it all online, so please join us virtually from 20 July – 24 July. Our goal is to set the new gold standard for virtual motivational leadership programs. To find out more please visit:

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