At age 8, Rishi Popat discovered what he wanted to do with the rest of his life – thanks to air conditioning and a chair.
Harvard-trained Dr. Rishi Popat, DMD, DMSC, was working alongside his parents at their north central Phoenix dry cleaners in the heat of summer when a customer, an orthodontist, asked permission to show the youngster his nearby office.
“He walked in and saw me, sweaty and bored, and asked my parents if it was okay to have me come and see how they worked,” Popat recalled.
“I walked in the door of his office and was in heaven when a blast of air conditioning hit me. And then I saw a chair, and I said ‘you get to sit in a chair?’ I went back and said, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do.”
Born in London and raised in Phoenix, Popat said Indian parents generally maintain high expectations for their children. He said many prefer their children work toward being physicians.
“I assured them I’d still be a doctor, but I’d be a doctor of the mouth.”
He made them proud, first receiving his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. While practicing general dentistry for two years in Phoenix, he volunteered at a downtown clinic providing dentistry to the underserved.
But he wasn’t done.
He headed east to Harvard University, earning his specialty Certificate in Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics at Harvard while concurrently pursuing and receiving his second doctorate degree in oral biology from Harvard Medical School.
He was the only American dentist accepted to Harvard’s internationally renowned orthopedic residency – in a class of five.
“The first time I applied to Harvard’s orthodontic program, I got denied but Harvard offered me a position in the General Practice Residency Program where I learned advanced general dentistry,” he explained.
“I applied again and was not accepted, so I moved back home to Phoenix and utilized my advanced general dentistry skills to help the underserved population at a community health center in South Phoenix.”
“The third time I applied, the dean asked, ‘Are you going to keep applying?’ and I said ‘yes’ and I was accepted. I now tell my family and patients they should never give up. If you really want something, pursue it.”
That motto helped him win the hand of his wife of eight years, Bansi Popat, also chief community officer of Popat Orthodontics.
“I was in my third year of Harvard residency and she was in Harvard Business School. There was a class I was taking and with 900 students, when I arrived, there was just one seat left. It was right next to Bansi,” he recalled. “That was the start.”
“On our first date she asked me about my business plan. I said, ’I’m going to go back to Phoenix and open an office and practice orthodontics. I’ll use a smile for my logo.’ She wasn’t impressed,” he laughed.
Now a Harvard Business School alum with an MBA, Bansi Popat stepped in to help him. Her first move was suggesting a logo: a pink bow tie.
“She said when she first met me, I was wearing a bow tie. Growing up, I always wore bow ties – the clip-ons that my parents bought me and that I wore to all my big events,” he stated.
“It’s not Harvard tradition, per se, but the professor of orthodontics cut my Mervyn’s long neck tie my mother had bought for me to wear on my first day of orthodontic residency at Harvard,” he explained.
“The next day the pink bow tie from Brooks Brothers appeared, and my professor showed me how to tie a bow tie.”
Serendipitous occurrences – like the orthodontist’s visit to his family’s business and meeting his wife-to-be by taking the only chair available in a crowded Harvard classroom – also account for purchasing Ahwatukee Orthodontics and launching his second orthodontics office in Phoenix.
“My grandparents lived down the street from Ahwatukee Orthodontics and my aunt and uncle and cousins also live there, so Ahwatukee is my second home. Even in my residency, I would pass by Dr. Jordan’s office. At last, we got acquainted, and I’d keep in touch with her.
“During COVID she decided she was ready to retire and I’m very fortunate she let me take over her practice,” he said. “Funny thing is, her parents also own a dry cleaners!”
A recent remodel of the office that Dr. Janet L. Jordan, DDS opened in 1996 was completed in May.
An inventor of various medical, dental and orthopedic devices, Popat also serves as a consultant for an innovative orthodontic technology company. At 41, he is passionate about developing and applying new technologies to aid his patients.
“I’m always trying to invent new things to make orthodontics more affordable and accessible,” he said. “We use our proprietary software to design the patient’s smile, and then make 3-D print Invisalign aligners in-house. Normally, Invisalign would take six to eight weeks to make, but we can have it made here in under a week, and the cost is better.”
Popat intuits the right questions to ask his patients.
“I love dealing with my patients; I love people. It’s nice to talk to them and see what they need. Everybody’s different, and I like to take time to get to know what they want, what their goals are. We help improve their lifestyle, their lives.”
“Facetime, Instagram, social media - that’s how millennials communicate, and that’s how I communicate with my patients,” he said. “They know I’m available to them.
For Jordan, leaving the practice she launched 25 years ago is bittersweet.
“The decision to retire was a difficult one, but once arrived at, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Dr. Rishi Popat,” she said. “As I grew to know him, I realized that he would be the perfect fit for my patients and contribute greatly to the already outstanding dental and orthodontic community here in Ahwatukee. I have found Dr. Popat to be incredibly knowledgeable, kind and caring.
“It is most comforting to be able to refer patients to Dr. Popat who I feel confident will take excellent care of them bringing his expertise and talent to their treatment.”
Jordan said she’s continuing to practice until next spring.
“It is my hope then to continue to work in other capacities within the orthodontic field,” she said.
“My staff and I have received endless satisfaction and joy in caring for all our patients and families over the years. It has been a true pleasure and an honor to be a part of this community since first opening our doors back in 1996. In the meantime, it has been my great pleasure to introduce Dr. Rishi Popat to Ahwatukee.”
Information: PopatOrthodontics.com or phone 602-313-8707. ′