Go Hollywood

May 1, 2003
Adding a little "Hollywood" style can go a long way in building the cosmetic practice of your dreams.

by William Dorfman, DDS

I was sitting at a soda fountain in some drugstore on Hollywood Boulevard. As I finished my sugar-free root beer float, I noticed a noisy group of movie-types down the counter, discussing a project they had "in development" at a studio. I overheard them saying something about an "extreme makeover" case and how they really needed to find a cosmetic dentist. I leaned over, handed one of my cards to the producer, and said, "Bill Dorfman, cosmetic dentist. I create beautiful smiles."

And the rest, as they say, is Hollywood.

Okay, that may not be exactly how I got to be part of ABC's new reality show, Extreme Makeover, but I can assure you that appearing on prime time television this past December has been one of the most exciting developments in my professional career. In case you missed it, Extreme Makeover featured three participants who experienced a real-life Cinderella story of their own. They underwent plastic surgery, tooth whitening and other dental services, as well as a complete beauty and wardrobe makeover. On top of all that, they were placed on a rigorous physical training and nutrition regimen. The results for each participant were absolutely amazing.

The smile makeover segment included a comprehensive oral health exam, prophylaxis, Zoom!® chairside whitening, and a diastema closure on Luke, one of the male participants. Shortly after the first episode aired, my office received well over 1,000 emails from patients interested in the featured procedures. I referred many of those patients to dentists all over the country, while others ended up in my office. We did 30 Zoom! chairside whitening treatments within the first two weeks of the show's airing. I've also done more than 10 veneer cases as a direct result of this appearance, with a lot more on the books.

In 20 years of practicing dentistry, I have tried numerous marketing and publicity-related ventures. Although many have been very successful, nothing has had a greater impact than appearing on a TV show. Not only can I affirm that it has brought new patients into my practice, it also has had the same effect on many dentists' offices around the country. For the first time ever, prime time television highlighted what a tremendous impact cosmetic dentistry can have on people's lives. When the pilot aired, the network was pleasantly surprised by its popularity. Not only did Extreme Makeover beat West Wing, it was one of the highest rated reality shows of the year. Everybody cares about looking good!

Here's the inside story: One of my patients had worked as a game show hostess on a nationally syndicated program. She had recently met with the producers of Extreme Makeover on a different project. However, they wound up pitching the idea to her and asked her to become involved with the show. She was immediately excited about the concept. It so happened that she was working for my friend, Dr. Garth Fisher, who is a plastic surgeon. At the end of her meeting, she said, "You have to meet my boss. He's a great plastic surgeon who would be perfect for Extreme Makeover."

So, the producers met Dr. Fisher and immediately concluded that they had found their first makeover expert. They also had selected a dentist, but Garth and my patient suggested that they also talk to me. The producers called me and told me they were interested in a meeting, but that they needed to make a decision that evening. Fortunately for me, I've compiled a lot of the media things I've done over the years into a demo tape. I realize this is unusual for a dentist, but I knew that actors and actresses use them, and that a demo tape is often preferable to a performance during auditions. I sent the tape over to ABC. Once they saw how comfortable I was in front of the camera, they called me back and told me that the job was mine!

Taping the show was a lot of fun, though at that point I really had no idea what it was all about. I definitely had no idea that it was going to air nationally, thinking only that it would be shown locally on an ABC affiliate. The taping was low-key, and the cameramen used hand-held beta cameras. Still, I gave it my best effort and had a great time.

Shortly after the program aired, a dentist friend of mine called and suggested that I share my experiences with our colleagues. Based on his comments, I thought that it might be interesting to develop what I'll call "A Blueprint for Extreme Success" that other dentists could use to create their own Extreme Makeover session locally. Follow these 10 steps and you might be very surprised at the response.

• Locate a great plastic surgeon in your vicinity. It's critical to find someone with an excellent reputation who is both personable and media savvy. I realize that this is easier said than done, since plastic surgeons notoriously lack the charisma and charm for which dentists are so recognized. Still, you should be able to find someone who shares your goals to create excitement about cosmetic makeovers.

• Take a course on media training and public speaking. In my opinion, that's the one real key to your personal version of Extreme Makeover. Make sure it's clear that you are having fun while you work on your patients. Believe it or not, there are many out there who are still reluctant to visit our offices. This is your opportunity to reshape their preconceptions about the dental experience.

Even if you can't get airtime right away on local stations, develop your own in-office video. Use it to distribute to referring plastic surgeons and for other PR opportunities.

• Keep the focus on the face and the teeth. Don't do a replica of ABC's show. Breast augmentation or liposuction won't enhance your work. Also, if you focus on the face, stay away from rhinoplasties; they take too long to heal. Quick turnaround is key.

• The best aesthetic procedures for dental makeovers: porcelain veneers and whitening. The best aesthetic procedures for surgical makeovers: face lift or chin augmentation.

• Find a great publicist! Hire one who's really keyed into this type of promotion and is well-connected with local media.

• Develop a personal media plan. Contact local news stations during the candidate search stage. Find out if they'll put out free public service announcements (PSA's) that you are conducting an extreme makeover with a plastic surgeon and that you seek candidates for treatment. People today have a really high IQ when it comes to extreme makeovers. Solicit letters and photos from prospective patients. The real selling point is that they will be getting free cosmetic dentistry and plastic surgery.

• Pick your Top 50 candidates and have them come into your office for screening. It's best to conduct this screening in your office. Most patients who come to you won't be selected for the makeover. However, after meeting you and visiting your office, they may become paying customers.

Once you start screening, what you really want to look for are opportunities for dramatic improvements. For example, patients with diastemas or crooked, chipped, or badly discolored teeth are ideal candidates for porcelain veneers and whitening.

• Find a good woman! Women buy cosmetic dentistry much more than men do. In fact, 87 percent of all cosmetic procedures are performed on female patients. Women in their 40s to early 70s make the best candidates.

• Make sure you perform procedures that make up a significant portion of your everyday practice. Don't perform a procedure that you're not totally confident with, that you perform infrequently, or that lacks mass appeal. For example, one of the candidates I screened for Extreme Makeover had missing lateral incisors.

Although it would have been very dramatic to do two bridges for her and replace those lateral incisors, not many cases like this walk in my office. Try to limit yourself to those procedures that are going to appeal to the largest segment of the population. These are the procedures that will bring patients into your office.

• Once you select the candidate or candidates, tape everything you do with the patient. You may have a lot of luck in finding a local station that wants to pick this event up as a story. It will be free, and it will be professional. If this doesn't happen, then I strongly recommend that you hire a professional to tape your treatment sessions.

If you've got great footage, it may get picked up for broadcast later on. And, if you can't get this picked up for television broadcast, you can make your own tape and use it to market to potential new patients or play it in your reception area. Appearance is everything, and how your story is filmed will determine how you appear.

I was a little bit frustrated after the first show because all I got to do was Zoom! on the first patients. So, I took the initiative to send over my "Before and After" book (you have one of these, right?) to the producers to show them what I could do with veneers. I included a thank you note about how much I enjoyed being on the show and suggested that if they ever produced a second show, this work represented what I could dowith cosmetic dentistry.

The producers were so hooked into the program that they actually had me come in and select the patients that I wanted to work on for the second round. This was vastly preferable for me because I was able to rule out the dentally inappropriate cases up-front (for example, orthodontic cases or patients who required long-term, extensive treatment).

One of the things I often hear from other dentists is, "Yeah, sure, that's fine for you, but you're in Beverly Hills with a celebrity clientele. Out here in (fill in the blank with Yourtown, USA), we just can't pull something like that off." It seems to me that Extreme Makeover's ratings prove that everyone, everywhere is interested in improving their appearance.

Treat all of your patients like celebrities, and you will be the No. 1 star in their lives!

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