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UCLA

The Do-Gooder Celebrity Dentist

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By Alison Hewitt

Published Sep 3, 2009 2:30 PM


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A trip to see dentist Bill Dorfman '80 might mean seeing him during regular office hours — or seeing him during a consultation on Extreme Makeover — or at a free clinic for impoverished children or battered women — or when he's providing free dental care in Mexico.

"I grew up poor," says "Dr. Bill," as the Century City-based dentist is known to friends and colleagues. "I swore that when I made it, I would give back."

The charitable celebrity dentist tries to instill the importance of volunteering in his own kids. His daughter, for example, joined him on a trip to rural Mexico when she was 6 to see him provide dental care to the villagers.

"She was assisting me, passing me instruments," Dorfman recalls. She did more than that: the 6-year-old even (gulp) pulled a patient's tooth after Dorfman did the prep work.

Dorfman graduated from UCLA in 1980 with a bachelor's in psychobiology before getting his dental degree, but he always knew what he wanted to do.

"I had a bad fall when I was 2 years old," he says. "But I had a great family dentist, and he made me feel so much better. Ever since, I wanted to be a dentist."

But a dentist with a spin. He became the go-to dentist for the reality TV show Extreme Makeover, and picked up a slew of charitable projects. On top of his work providing free dental care to needy children and battered women, his most recent project is the LEAP program, a week long, summer-camp style youth leadership conference that he hosts at UCLA.

He first became involved with the program when it was called Eagle University and still run by friends who asked him to be a guest speaker. "It was the most moving experience I'd had in the whole world of philanthropy," Dorfman says. When Eagle U's continuation was threatened by the death of one of its founders, Dorfman and the other founder reshaped the leadership series as the LEAP program. For $2,500 (although half of the students get a scholarship thanks to donors recruited, in part, by Dorfman), high schoolers and college students stay in the UCLA dorms and attend meetings for tips on things like study habits, social skills, etiquette and public speaking.

Dorfman brings in high-caliber guest speakers, but for some of the sessions also draws from his own life. During his presentation on study tricks, he noted that the tips he was giving out are the same ones he uses when he goes on reality TV shows and knows the director wants him to address several specific points. Unlike many other experts, he doesn't need notes or prompting. That's also thanks to his efforts to become a better public speaker, he said.

"As a dentist, you don't particularly take public speaking as part of the curriculum," Dorfman says ruefully. "I realized that I needed to be able to speak in public, so I took classes. I took MBA classes and media training courses."

He even joined a local comedy troupe's improv class — "to become funnier and faster."

Few employers expect employees to have public speaking training, but almost everyone faces situations that require public speaking skills, Dorfman believes: "You need it for a sales pitch, for asking for a promotion, or even proposing to a woman," he says, which ties into his etiquette classes and his boys-only "How to be a Gentleman" session, where he teaches everything from how to tie a tie and use the right fork at dinner to showing respect and consideration for women.

The celebrity dentist/philanthropist gave a sneak peak of the public speaking advice he would give to his leadership students with a joke that doubles as a demo.

"There are three things to remember when giving a speech that people will remember, and if you can be humorous, all the better," he says. "Number one: make a point. Number two: reinforce that point. Number three: make the point again."

Dorfman's extensive charity work and commitment to helping kids succeed has hardly gone unnoticed. He and four other UCLA alumni will be honored Nov. 20 at the 65th Annual UCLA Awards from the UCLA Alumni Association. Dorfman will receive the UCLA Award in Community Service for the contributions of his time to his community.

"Dorfman graduated with the award of UCLA Outstanding Senior; he is now an internationally recognized dentist known for his research and innovation in cosmetic dentistry," the Alumni Association wrote about him. "Lesser known is his voracious and ongoing commitment to related philanthropic endeavors to help those in need."

The UCLA Awards also recognize Michael Josephson '64, J.D. '67, founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and Character Counts, as Alumnus of the Year; former Los Angeles City Councilwoman and current L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel '83 with the UCLA Award in Public Service; Gail Devers '89, a professional track-and-field athlete and Olympian, with the UCLA Award in Professional Achievement; and Ralph Shapiro '53, J.D. '58 and Shirley Shapiro '59, chairman of the Avondale Investment Company and philanthropists, with the UCLA Award in University Service.

For Dorfman, who remembers hearing about the UCLA Awards when he received the Outstanding Senior Award in 1980, there's a certain symmetry to the whole thing.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "It's come full circle."

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