Extreme Success

April 1, 2004
ABC's "Extreme Makeover" has been a runaway hit. Dr. Bill Dorfman shares his thoughts on the show in this exclusive interview with Dental Economics.

by Kevin Henry, Managing Editor

No television show in the history of the medium has impacted dentistry as much as "Extreme Makeover." In prime-time television, millions of people around the world have seen the impact of cosmetic dentistry on the lives of normal, everyday Americans. The dentist responsible for making the "magic" happen each week on network television is Dr. William Dorfman, the inventor and founder of Discus Dental and a successful practicing dentist in southern California. As the second season of "Extreme Makeover" prepares to hit the airwaves, Dr. Dorfman sat down with Dental Economics managing editor Kevin Henry for an exclusive interview.

DE: How was the idea of "Extreme Makeover" first presented to you?

Dr. Dorfman: Jennifer Cole is a patient of mine and the hostess of a game show. The creators of "Extreme Makeover" told her about this new game show they were creating. When she heard the initial concept, she told them they just had to meet her dentist. ABC had already selected another dentist to be a part of the show, but Howard Schultz (one of the creators) insisted that the others meet with me. I told them that I really didn't know if I had the time to do this because I already had patients scheduled that day. I didn't understand that this was going to be a national show, or I would have run to the studio. Luckily, I had a demo reel ready to give them because I had been asked to present it by other syndicated shows, such as Rosie O'Donell. They watched my demo reel and loved it! We met, we all clicked, and they told me they were going to shoot the pilot for the show two days later and wanted me to be a part of it.

They wanted me to do Zoom! whitening only on the first show. We shot the pilot and the ratings went through the roof! When I saw the ratings, I went back to the producers and asked them if I could show them some before-and-after shots. I told them that even if you just concentrated on an individual's hair, makeup, and teeth, you could have an amazing makeover. I sent them 20 before-and-after cases to show them the improvements that had been made. They called me back and said they would let me augment the results I achieved with Zoom! with more cosmetic dentistry.

DE: So, after those ratings, what were your initial thoughts about the show?

Dr. Dorfman: My initial thoughts were that if they would let me also help choose the patients, I could show the nation how dramatically cosmetic dentistry could enhance a patient's appearance. They sent me some patients, who were good dental cases, but I went back to them and told them I wanted to be involved in the selection process. I knew we could find patients whose makeovers would really 'wow' a national audience.

DE: What was your role in the selection process?

Dr. Dorfman: None in the beginning, but now I'm the first guy that any "Extreme Makeover" candidate sees. These people land in Los Angeles and are brought to me before anyone else. I meet with them and give them an exam. If I can't give them a great result, they are flown back home and are not a part of the show. If the dental work can't achieve great results, the producers know there's no need for that person to see a plastic surgeon or anyone else.

DE: Did the show's success surprise you?

Dr. Dorfman: I was blown away! Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought that the show would have been this successful. I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be a part of this show. I'm on prime-time TV every Thursday night on ABC. The show is now being syndicated in Europe and all over the world. I walk through malls and sit on flights and people know me as the dentist on "Extreme Makeover." I was on a flight to New York and the flight attendant kept staring at me. She finally came over and asked, 'Aren't you the guy from 'Extreme Makeover'?' I smiled and told her that I was. Her co-worker looked at me and said, 'What did they do to you?' I had to laugh about that."

DE: The response from the public and dental professionals to the show has been amazing. What do you think was the one thing about "Extreme Makeover" that really excited both sectors?

Dr. Dorfman: Have you noticed that they never show anything negative? It's a very upbeat show. The editing is tremendous because they take great care to show dentistry in its best form. When I watch the show, I am blown away by how things look. It's a surprise to me week after week. The support from the dental community for the show has been incredibly supportive. I would estimate that I've answered more than 6,000 emails from dentists and laypeople who watch the show, and not one of them has been negative. It's not that way in every community. One of the plastic surgeons quit his medical associations because he was receiving so much flack from his peers. Dentists see the show as something that is great for the profession because they are reaping the benefits of the show just like the patients who are receiving treatment, and I'm glad that dentists are so open-minded.

DE: Obviously, dental isn't the only type of makeover presented on the show. Have you been disappointed with the time allotted for dental? Has it been enough time to get the message of cosmetic dentistry across to the masses?

Dr. Dorfman: There are shows where dentistry is the whole show. I thank my lucky stars every time I'm on. What a gift! I get to represent the dental profession on prime-time TV. Whatever time has been given to dentistry on the show has made an amazing impact on the public. I really think this is the single-greatest thing to boost the dental profession in years.

DE: What challenges did camera crews and other television-related things present when it was time to do the dental work?

Dr. Dorfman: The biggest challenges were the lights. When you are working with materials that are light-sensitive, the extra lights are just going to make it seat faster, so I had to be ready to work fast. The lights also made me extremely hot. I'm a naturally hot person, so I always keep the office ice-cold. With the sound equipment and lights, we couldn't have any air-conditioning on, so the sweat poured off of me.

DE: Is America obsessed with the "Hollywood smile?"

Dr. Dorfman: I think so. We've heard over and over how the smile is the first thing people notice about someone else. We could see on "Extreme Makeover" that, when a person had a new smile, it would change that individual completely. When the producers bring potential makeovers to me first before anyone else, I think that tells you how important the smile is on TV and in real life.

DE: How do you see in-office whitening and take-home whitening fitting into the "Extreme Makeover" sensation?

Dr. Dorfman: Zoom! has gone through the roof. People see it done on the show and they're motivated to go in and talk to their dentists about whitening. Everyone who watches this show has a dentist. You can't say that about a plastic surgeon. People are intrigued with plastic surgery, but it's not something that they consider personal like dental work. Knowing that people can connect in their own lives to dentists and having dental work performed makes it even more compelling for the viewer.

DE: It seems like every city in America has its own version of "Extreme Makeover" now. Could you have envisioned anything like this when the show first began?

Dr. Dorfman: You know the book, "The Tipping Point?" This is the modern-day tipping point. Tens of thousands of people are now seeing the benefits of cosmetic dentistry and are talking to their dentists about it. These people also are getting healthier mouths.

DE: Did you ever treat an "Extreme Makeover" patient who was a dental phobic? If so, how did you handle that situation?

Dr. Dorfman: There were a few, and we always treated them with a small bit of sedation. One lady was deathly afraid. We had to bring in an anesthesiologist and put her to sleep, but we couldn't put that on the show because we didn't realize the patient's level of fear until the 11th hour. By then, it was too late to have the anesthesiologist sign a release form, so that part had to be taken out of the show.

DE: Even though makeover patients are highly motivated, do you spend any time exploring their attitudes about dentistry or their knowledge of dental health?

Dr. Dorfman: Patients who come on the show are there to have me do whatever I want and think needs to be done. The dental IQ of the country has skyrocketed with this show. I never have to ask what a patient wants. The patient looks at me and tells me to go for it! The patients totally trust me, and everything turns out great. Unlike plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry is very predictable and we can give the patient a good idea of what he or she will look like after the procedure. They walk in a mess and walk out with beautiful temporaries.

DE: Can you provide any details about the most challenging case you were involved in during the first season of "Extreme Makeover"?

Dr. Dorfman: There was a beautiful woman whose last name was Rodriguez that, whenever she smiled, her smile negated everything else that was beautiful about her appearance. Her mouth was just horrible, and she couldn't have a normal life because of it. We were able to significantly change her smile and her life, but it was a lot of work. We know that the results were great because she has been on segments of shows such as "Good Morning America" and "Extra" talking about the change that has taken place in her life. That's great for dentistry.

DE: You've said that the upcoming season of "Extreme Makeover" will be more heavily focused on dentistry. Can you give us a sneak peek of what that means?

Dr. Dorfman: No (laughing). The contract won't allow for discussion of future shows. However, I can say that if you have a practice that is focused on implants, you will be very happy. If you don't have a practice like that, you might want to start thinking about it.

DE: How has the show changed you? How has the show changed dentistry?

Dr. Dorfman: Hopefully it's made me much more appreciative of the power of the press. I knew it was strong, but this has blown me away. I'm very grateful to the producers and to ABC for showing the world what dentistry can do to change lives. I get e-mails all the time from dentists who tell me how proud they are of their profession and how fulfilled it makes them to see their profession on prime-time television every week. There aren't many professions that say they can change a person's life. We can in dentistry, and that's a wonderful thing.

Sponsored Recommendations

Clinical Study: OraCare Reduced Probing Depths 4450% Better than Brushing Alone

Good oral hygiene is essential to preserving gum health. In this study the improvements seen were statistically superior at reducing pocket depth than brushing alone (control ...

Clincial Study: OraCare Proven to Improve Gingival Health by 604% in just a 6 Week Period

A new clinical study reveals how OraCare showed improvement in the whole mouth as bleeding, plaque reduction, interproximal sites, and probing depths were all evaluated. All areas...

Chlorine Dioxide Efficacy Against Pathogens and How it Compares to Chlorhexidine

Explore our library of studies to learn about the historical application of chlorine dioxide, efficacy against pathogens, how it compares to chlorhexidine and more.

Enhancing Your Practice Growth with Chairside Milling

When practice growth and predictability matter...Get more output with less input discover chairside milling.