Full Circle

At age 10, Joseph Choukair took a fall while playing and hit his face on the edge of a table. Something wiggled in his mouth. He touched it, and his front tooth came off with its root.

Joseph Choukair
Joseph Choukair

"I thought my life was over," he said. He knew that was his adult tooth and would never grow back. He worried about his appearance and about going to school.

The family rushed to their dentist with the tooth in their pocket. Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) alum Stephen S. Grober '99 did a root canal, reimplanted the tooth, and splinted it with braces. "It was so inspiring for a ten-year-old," said Choukair. "He made a difference in my life that day and made me want to do dentistry." Choukair earned his dental degree from RSDM this May and will start the school's periodontics postgraduate program in the fall.

"It's a great feeling to see somebody take a path that you kind of help them decide to do, and then they do it and be successful at it,” said Grober, who noticed Choukair's interest in the profession early on. "He was just really intuitive and into everything we were doing, like when I did some work on his father, he would come to watch. Joseph is going to be a great periodontist, and I'm looking forward to maybe taking our relationship one step further and working together soon.”

Choukair with faculty
Choukair with periodontics faculty at the Andrew Pollara Scholarship Award ceremony.​

That tooth held in place for eight years until Choukair had to get an implant during college. For his undergraduate education, he chose Rutgers-Newark. He joined pre-health and pre-dental student clubs. He shadowed dentists. He also attended RSDM's Gateway to Dentistry program, an immersion program for college students. "It was the best experience ever for anyone interested in dentistry," he said. "I felt like I was a dental student for two weeks."

Soon after, he became an RSDM student. He excelled at his studies and was inducted into the Omega Omega Chapter of Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU), the national dental honor society. 

He was selected as an ambassador for the Gateway to Dentistry and the high school program Decision for Dentistry. He returned to his college student clubs as a guest speaker. He wanted to give back because, as a first-generation college graduate and first-generation doctor, he was on his own. "These programs helped me in my journey," he said. I wanted to help make it better for the next cohort."

At RSDM, Choukair continued to find support from the community. "All the faculty are very supportive. … One thing I like about the Rutgers culture is that everybody knows everybody. Everyone has genuine care for each other. We just like to care for each other, and the same goes for the students."  

During his studies, he discovered a passion for periodontics. "Ever since I got my implant, I was intrigued by surgery and esthetics," he said. A course with Professor of Periodontics Joel Pascuzzi confirmed his path. "I attribute this to his lectures and making them very interesting." Besides enjoying the course material, he liked periodontics' comprehensive look at cases. He was also excited by the future of the specialty with the increasing longevity. "We're going to see a much older population, more periodontitis, and periimplantitis in the future," he said. "I think it's going to be an ever-growing field."

Just a few weeks before graduation, Choukair saw a patient come in with a fallen tooth with its root intact, or an avulsion, he’d call as a dentist. "It just felt like a circle of life moment that day," he said. "What better way to end my last day than having a case with an avulsion, the reason why I wanted to do dentistry."