Celebrating 15 Years of Saving Smiles: Dr. Ronald Goldstein

We were so grateful for the opportunity to chat with Dr. Ronald Goldstein, who is known world-wide as the father of modern cosmetic dentistry, to talk about the importance of a healthy smile. His has generously donated the proceeds of his new book, About Life, A Photographer's Story, to help teens in need get the restorative dental care they need to succeed at school and into adulthood.

Listen in on our conversion or read the transcript below. Click here for more details about his book and how you can get a copy and support our program to restore smiles.

Jill Malmgren:
Hello everyone! My name is Jill Malmgren. I'm Executive Director of America's Tooth Fairy. We are so delighted to have you join us here today as we talk with Dr. Ronald Goldstein. He is a longtime supporter, and he is widely considered the father of modern cosmetic dentistry. He even wrote the first comprehensive textbook on aesthetic and cosmetic dentistry in 1976. Currently, he is a clinical professor at the Georgia Health Sciences University, and an adjunct clinical professor at the Boston University, University of Texas, and also the University of Pennsylvania.

He's a prolific writer and consumer of academic literature on the topics of dentistry, specifically aesthetic smile enhancements, and their implications on the world of beauty, success, and one's overall appearance. His best-selling consumers book, Change Your Smile, which is now in its 4th edition, has been translated and read by millions of people worldwide. He has presented continuing education courses at more than 20 universities, and lectured at over 600 dental meetings, in the US, Canada, Australia, South America, Asia, and throughout Europe.

Dr. Goldstein had always said if he was not practicing dental medicine, that he would be a photographer, and he created a booked called About Life, A Photographer's Story, which captures the photos of people, animals, landscapes, even daily life that he observed during his travels as he lectured about aesthetic dentistry. He has generously donated the proceeds of this book to benefit America's ToothFairy. And we're going to talk with him today to learn more about him, his career, and passion for helping those in need.

Well, Dr. Goldstein, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. We'd love to first learn a little bit more about you, and what inspired you to become a dentist.

Dr. Ronald Goldstein:
Well, I had a father who was really a great dentist in Atlanta, and he wrote articles, he taught. And I was going to be a newspaper journalist, and I was on the Michigan Daily, so that was what I was going to do at the University of Michigan. And he said, "Spend the summer with me, and watch what I do." So that's what I did. I spent a summer watching everything he did, and he finally said, "I know you want to be a journalist." He says, "We need great writers in dentistry, so you'll do your writing, and yet you have my practice that you can eventually come into."

So, I was very busy with mental health and mental retardation, setting up Virginia Chamber of Commerce International Program. And I met my uncle outside. He was Vice Dean of Menninger's Clinic. And I said, "I think I want to be a psychiatrist."

And he said, "Ronny," he says, "Your father has got this great practice. You've got 12 more years. You want to go and do that?" He says, "You'll have a successful future. You can do your writing," and I said, "Okay, that's what I'll do." So I listened to him and my dad. And it was really the right decision that I made.

Well, I think so, as far as actually becoming the father of modern aesthetic dentistry.

Dr. Goldstein:
When I went to dental school at Emery Dental School, and when I came out, I spent two years in the Army as an officer. And I went to Europe, giving a clinic for aesthetic dentistry. And it was a table clinic, which wasn't that great. And who was giving the lecture for the whole Dental Society in Belgium, was Charlie Pincus. He was the dentist to the stars. And the problem was, that he was talking about his acrylic veneers. And the problem was at that point, they weren't good, and the audience walked out.

Oh yeah. And then, he came out. They were all around me at the table clinic, because I was showing that as temporary veneers, which was okay. And Charlie came out to see me. He said, "I've lost my audience, and you've got them here." So he became one of my mentors, and he was wonderful. We became great friends and lectured all over Europe, and other places together. So it was... Well, let's put it this way. It was fate.

But I went in to see my dad, and Dad said, "You know Ronnie, you've been lecturing on mental health, mental retardation around the country." He says, "You've done it. You've set up a program. The president kicked it off for you." He says, "What more can you do?" He says, "I want you back in dentistry. Your peers are getting ahead of you."

So I said, "Okay. Give me about three months to look at everything, and I'll come back and talk to you," which I did. He says, "Take the time, go to clinics, do anything you want."

When I came back in, I said, "Dad, I want to specialize—which is no specialty—in cosmetic dentistry, in aesthetic dentistry."

And he said, "Ronnie, every dentist does that, so what are you going to do?"

I said, "I'm going to make it a special part of dentistry, because right now, dentists don't seem to care about cosmetic dentistry or aesthetic dentistry." So I did a two-year study with Emery, a psychologist at Emery, and we surveyed two years of Miss Atlanta contestants. Here I picked the most beautiful young ladies I could find, and I expected to find perfect smiles. We were going to analyze them.

I went to the Polaroid Company, they did the study with me, taking all the pictures. And what I found was, is that dentistry did not understand the need for beautiful smiles. The contestants said, "Well, why I didn't get it, my dentist thought I was cute enough. My dentist thought I was too vain. My dentist didn't care about doing that."

And that's when I knew that our profession really wasn't interested in the cosmetic part. We were interested in the functional part of how the system operates.
So that was my goal, to make it not only a national priority in our profession, but later, international too. And that's what we did. I published the first textbook on aesthetic dentistry. There wasn't one. I wrote the first consumer book, Change Your Smile, which was on cosmetic dentistry.

And I was told by my friends at that point, "They're going to write you out of the profession. You're writing to consumers?" When before, you couldn't even advertise. So it was out of the park.

So anyway, what happened was, when I told the consumer audience that there are only about six, seven avenues they could take, because they had a great smile. And I said, "Here's the pluses and the minuses." Well, it really made a difference. I remember in... I went all over after publishing the book and did appearances all over, because I was already lecturing to dentists all over the world. One in Charlotte, North Carolina, I talked to the Dental Society, and afterwards I came back to Atlanta. I did some radio broadcasts. I did some television broadcasts.

When I came back, I had a call from the president of the society, and he says, "Ronnie, you don't know what you did here."

I said, "Uh oh. What happened?"

He says, "The demand for cosmetic dentistry is out of the roof here." He says, "It really made a difference," so I knew then that we had succeeded in helping the profession change their minds about what was the most important after function. It was aesthetics.

And it's been nonstop ever since, with four volumes of my different textbooks. It's all over the world in languages. So I've accomplished that.

Yes, you certainly have! And I think you've been certainly such a great supporter of our organization, and just thinking about many of the recent teens that were helped through the program that you helped spearhead and support and establish, and just thinking about one in particular that was experiencing so much pain, very ashamed about their smile... You know, that broken smile, so ashamed to raise their hand in class or speak up, and certainly just suffering in general, not being able to concentrate due to pain.

And I know he had... The pain finally became so unbearable, let alone the fact that he was embarrassed to really speak up in front of his classmates or even be social, and seeing how that impacts kids at such a young age. But the pain finally got to a point where he went to a clinic that we support, and we were able to help him provide the surgery that he needed to get his major oral health problems rectified. And now, he is pain free and so grateful, and really thriving.

But we couldn't have done that without your support and your engagement of fellow dental professionals and others, in supporting oral care for kids in need. Tell us a little bit about why you are so dedicated towards helping these kids and teens.

Dr. Goldstein:
I had a call from a psychologist here in Atlanta, and he said, "Ron, I have a young lady here who was making all A's, and became a source of being bullied because of her irregular smile and missing teeth, and she dropped out of school and became antisocial."

And the society said... Well, it's not the society. It's Public Health Department, sent her to me to help her. And when I found out, talking from the psychologist, what the problem was and why she was being bullied, “I need help with this. I can't do any more, but you could do a whole lot if you could get her a better looking smile.”

So I said, "Send her over." She was very shy, not speaking very much. She was a little bit overweight. Otherwise, she was in good health, but terribly depressed, because she wasn't in school. And she had a brain on her. She was a smart girl before. So I said okay, let's... I talked to my team. We have a very large office here in Atlanta, and I talked to the team, and they all said that they would support my work. So if I needed the specialties to come in and help, they would do that.

So in a period of about 18 months, we had her a beautiful smile, because it really took a lot, and I told the psychologist... I called him. I said, "We're done. She is beautiful, and she has this wonderful smile. I'm sending her back to you to do the rest."

And he called me about four or five months later. He said, "She's back in school. She's making A's again. She is totally changed." And the history of her was, she graduated high school, she went to college, graduated, and has a great job in finance.

So it was a home run, and I realized that if this happened to this girl, it's got to be happening to kids all over. And that was the spark that made me work to form what would be a program of Tomorrow's Smiles.

Well, we are so glad you did. I mean, we've been able to help over 300 kids through that program. And counting.

Have certainly some great stories coming up for this year, with some wonderful donations that we've received as a result of the proceeds of your book that you so generously donated to us, called About Life, A Photographer's Story. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about what kind of prompted you to get into photography, and then ultimately to decide to donate the proceeds of your book to benefit America's ToothFairy, and the teens and kids that we serve?

Dr. Goldstein:
I was very nearsighted in my young years, and it was around the time I became 13 that my teachers said to my parents, "You've got to get him to see better, because he doesn't belong in the first row. He belongs further back, but he can't see back there." It was all blurry to me.

So they took me to the eye doctor, and I got fitted for glasses, and the optician said, "Go outside, and see if you can see well outside." Well, I walked out on the streets. It was downtown Atlanta, and people walking by, and I saw for the first time, what their faces really look like. It was all a blur. It looked like it just had no blemishes, nothing.
And all of a sudden, I saw all the scars, the pimples, the freckles, everything, and it opened my eye to… around. I could see trees for the first time. Everything was so clear, and it got me interested in photography. I had to record the things that I was seeing.

So that started me, and it's been a 60-year plus of pictures, because I had the opportunity as I became a dentist, and was lecturing all over the world. I would always take an extra day or two days to see something, because most people in dentistry, the top clinicians, will go in and out. I have a partner, Dr. Garba, who he'll go in and come back, go out, and come back.

And that's what I was doing, but I said, "That's not right. I want to see and photograph the beauty that I see, and remember later on what I saw for the photograph." And that's what got me to always take some time wherever we went, and it was a... As I say, I lectured all around the world, all the continents, and it was an opportunity for me, to see what life is like. And that's why I named the title of the book, About Life, A Photographer's Story, which is what I was.

But I've always been fascinated about life, all facets of life, the beauty, and the un-beauty. The pluses, the minuses, and the challenges. All about life. And that's what I recorded. So, in my effort to try to help raise more funds to Tomorrow’s Smiles charity, I felt like if I do a book, I didn't want to put it for sale. I wanted to do it specifically for Tomorrow’s Smiles, so the only way people could get a copy of it would be to make a nice donation to the charity.

And thank goodness, it's happened. I had calls from dentists who wanted to get a copy. "Ron, can you send me a copy?" I said, "I don't have any copies. The charity has them, and you have to make a donation." So we got good donations, and I hope that this interview will help bring even more, because the book... I didn't want to just publish another book. I've published 30 different books, author and co-authors.

So I wanted something to be a coffee table book like none other, and we did it with flat binding. We did it oversized, as a coffee table book, 13 by I think, 15 or maybe even 17. And we used triple gloss on the pictures, or 80% of them, to make them jump off and have reality to them. And then, we used special silk paper you couldn't even buy, because of the problems with getting anything today. But the publisher found a place where we could buy it.

And what we did as a team, we used in the book, the beauty, the poverty to some extent, what we do as people, what we waste as people, and the faces. I've always loved faces. So there's a chapter on "about life," there's a chapter on "about faces," and you'll see all of the different moods of facial expressions.

And I would always catch them at the right time. I don't mind waiting. I waited one time, two hours in the ice cold up in Carolina, with a pond that I saw swans a long way away, but they were going to each other. It took two hours before they came and they kissed, and I got that. I was frozen, but I got the picture, and it's in the book.

Yes, it is!

Dr. Goldstein:
So that made me... Which is About Life. And life has to be better for these kids that are bullied because they're embarrassed to smile. So that's what I wanted, their life to improve, and that's why I named the book About Life. And it is. It's got the earth. It's got every section, about eight different chapters. And the other thing I did was, I wanted people to smile, and see what they saw in a picture. So I didn't do any writing under the pictures. They wouldn't know where I took them, because they were taken all around the world.

But if they went to chapter eight, in the back of the book, I had listings of the pictures, where I shot it, and sometimes the stories, the wonderful stories that went along, and who these people were. Or pictures. So they could go back and see. But I wanted the individuals to see what they see in the picture.

And one person who had the book wrote me a letter and said, "I loved the book. It was just amazing." And she particularly liked a picture on page so and so. And she says, "In the right side of the picture, I was amazed how you captured that person." Well, I didn't remember. I went to the picture—I didn't even see that person! I took the other part, but she saw something in it that I hadn't seen.


Dr. Goldstein:
And that's been wonderful. You can find out which pictures that people liked, and why they liked them too.

Well, the book is just comprised of so many powerful, and I think also inspirational images. It really is... I think “About Life, A Photographer's Story” is a very apt title.

Dr. Goldstein:

Jill :
It really does capture so many facets, and particularly all the faces of individuals. And I think like you said, it allows us to see the beauty, notice the details, notice the things... It tells us a lot about ourselves, and I think it helps us pay attention to what's out there in the world, and-

Dr. Goldstein:

That I think transformative power that you're ultimately passing on by making that generous donation, to help so many teens in need, of critical care, especially at such a crucial point in their lives, as they're approaching adulthood, it's so critical for them. And I think you understand how much that smile matters. The function is important, but so is... That's what they have to show to the world, and it's important that they feel confident being able to smile, and talk, and laugh, and engage. Without being inhibited by a broken smile, so-

Dr. Goldstein:
You know, one picture that it was very important to me, and why I was able to get it... I was in Barcelona, taking pictures in the shopping area, and I was impressed by unfortunately, the number of beggars that were there, people that were handicapped, everything. I was doing it, and all of a sudden, I looked to the right, and I had seen this man who was asking for charity, and the moment I turned, a woman turned down and kissed him.

And it was so moving. I had a tear in my eye, but I took the picture, and it's in the book. So you see things that, if you wait and just look for things, that can be different, and you don't normally see. The wonderful things about life, that's what I tried to incorporate. So it's a fun thing.

And even in the... The designer for the book, he used humor. He's got a very dry sense of humor, and Rich used humor in the way he had the pictures organized, on two pages. They were big pictures. And so, you'll see humor in it.

And there's one section on dichotomy in there, which is... I like to see that. I saw a... We were walking through... This was in... It wasn't Rome. I think it could be... I forget the city we were in. It's in the book. But we were walking through, just taking a nice walk and taking pictures, my wife and I, and I looked to the left, and here was this family eating on the sidewalk. They're not eating on the sidewalk, but their nice table, a nice restaurant, set there. And right in front of them, was garbage.

Just I couldn't... It just had the dichotomy of wonderful eating, and the waste and garbage that was there. So those are the kind of things that I enjoy being able to capture, because it shows every part of our society, about every part of life.

Absolutely. And I think those powerful images, they make us think, you know? Beyond that picture, beyond... And similarly, with the gift that you provided, being able to show these powerful images that can make us really truly feel, and then to know too, that being able to participate and get this book, and being able to help a kid in need in doing so, and really give them that transformative power, change the way they can look at the world now that they have the opportunity to be confident and feel good about their smile, or be pain free, not be distracted by that or unable to sleep.

I mean, it's so powerful. We certainly can't thank you enough for you all of your dedication over the years, to America's ToothFairy, and supporting this type of comprehensive, really transformative oral care for those that need it most.

Dr. Goldstein:
I hope that people will understand that they're contributing... They'll get the book, which will be hopefully on one of their coffee tables, but also the main thing is that they're really contributing to teenagers' life, from becoming antisocial, which so much is going on today. We've got 18 year old teenagers that are doing horrible crimes and things—antisocial. There has to be a reason why they've gone this bad road, instead of the road that will help them succeed in life and enjoy life much more.

So that's the reason why, that we need to get many more donations, so that we can expand the program and help a lot of these teens that ordinarily, they wouldn't have a chance.

It is one of our most popular programs, and very much in high demand. I mean, you really hit the nail on the head with regards to the services and materials that the program helps cover. It bridges the gap, right? So if there are barriers that that child or family is facing, or even clinics that we support that may not have those specialist services, or whatever the case may be. This funding really does provide that bridge, and allows them to carry out pretty extensive care as a result, which otherwise just wouldn't happen.

So we have seen it, and have so many fun stories to share, and so many... Even just this year with the donation of your book, we're very excited, and then we're doing another round of grants coming up. So very excited to share that, and have some wonderful candidates, kids that really need our help. But they wouldn't have a choice otherwise. So, being able to bridge that gap is critical.

Dr. Goldstein:
Oh, it's really rewarding for the dentist, and that's why we have to give back. All of us in our profession are really very benefiting off the fact that we always have work. We don't get laid off, because people need to care for their oral system. And so, it's a rewarding thing for the dentist who agrees to do this, as well as for us to be able to make sure that enough dentists are there doing this. And I think that's what we need to be doing in dentistry, and really every profession, is helping the people who can't help themselves, and especially the teens that can't.

Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. We've been fortunate to really see, and how being able to impact their smile, and how that impacts their lives, and their confidence, and certainly how they look at the world. It opens up a world of possibilities.

And so often, I think it's something that everyone can overlook. When you sit and think, what would my life be like if I couldn't smile, or didn't feel comfortable laughing at a friend's joke? Or raising my hand in class, or to speak up. And I think you've really captured something with your support and dedication to this program, and really understanding that it does impact their just overall success and ability to thrive.

Dr. Goldstein:
Yes. The founder of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation—America's ToothFairy, was Cherilyn Sheets. Dr. Sheets was president of our Academy of Aesthetic Dentistry. She's known throughout for her wonderful dentistry, but also for her philanthropy. So, we're indebted to her. And as I say, it comes back, so I'm pleased to do that because Cherilyn is a good friend, and I love her as well. So thank you Jill, for all the work you're doing to help us, and I'll keep doing all that I can.

Well, thank you so much! And I will certainly share those words with Dr. Sheets as well. She's a longtime mentor of mine, and grateful for having had the opportunity to work with her all these years.

And yes, but I think it's individuals like you that have really shaped dentistry, and had successful, wonderful careers, and truly serving as models, and showing how important it is to give back, and how rewarding that can be, both for those that benefit, as well as for the professional. You're making a difference in the world, and we are so grateful for that. So thank you.

Dr. Goldstein:
Thanks so much, Jill.

To learn more about Dr. Goldstein's new book and how you can help a teen in need of restorative dental care visit

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