Philadelphia pediatric dental resident Dr. Nidhi Kotak, 33, has practiced all over the world. That experience, along with outside interests such as improv theater, have made her a better clinician.

WHAT DREW YOU to dentistry in the first place?
I grew up in a family of physicians and started my dental journey in 2006 in India at Manipal College of Dental Sciences. I shadowed a prosthodontist in Dubai, and somewhere all the dots started lining up. I’ve practiced dentistry in four countries: India, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and the United States. Dental outreach has taken me to many incredible places—on one such mission I had the fortune of meeting the Dalai Lama. The journey so far has been unconventional, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Q: Your love for dance is quite apparent from the videos you post on Instagram @BabyToothDentist.
I’ve been dancing since I was 4. I choreographed dances for Indian weddings before I got into dental school. In the past year, I figured out a way to combine my passion to be onstage, dance and talk about teeth through social media.

Q: What’s your personal favorite clip you’ve posted?
A video of me impersonating Kevin Hart while promoting the right age for letting kids brush on their own. Weirdly, I got a casting call from a reality show in Los Angeles after I posted this video. My co-resident Dr. Janny Lim and I make the most fun dance videos.

Q: You were on the school’s dance team in college in India, too.
We were a group of about 10 dental students, and we participated in multiple competitions. We focused on Bhangra and Garba, both Indian folk dances. What I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie we had. Fifteen years later, I still keep in touch with most of them.

Improv taught me how to let go of inhibitions, be more comfortable being myself and put others around me at ease.

Q: What types of dance do you find most fun or fulfilling?
I’ve always been into Bollywood dancing. I’m obsessed with B-Funk, a group in L.A. In the summer of 2020, when everything went virtual, so did dance lessons. While I haven’t been able to go to L.A. for a live class, I was able to take several B-Funk classes over quarantine.

Q: You’ve also trained and performed at Second City in Chicago, the legendary improv house.
I signed up for my first improvisational theater class at Second City in 2015. I had recently moved to the area, and I thought it would be a good way to meet new people. The inexplicable thrill of being onstage without a script is what I remember most vividly.

What I didn’t realize was how much improv could teach me about dentistry and patient interactions. It taught me how to let go of inhibitions, be more comfortable being myself and put others at ease. Incorporating the essence of improv into my profession has helped me adapt to stressful situations, gain pediatric patients’ trust and help them and their parents cope with anxiety.

I love Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, both of whom spent a lot of time at Second City. My comfort level onstage was always derived from my ensemble. In improv, if the scene seems to be tanking and the audience starts to lose interest, your ensemble jumps in to support you and heighten the scene. I think this can be applied to pretty much any profession, but especially dentistry. If you have a great team, it makes life so much easier.