The NEOMED Foundation recently received a $10 million commitment from the Dr. Dominic A. and Helen M. Bitonte Family Foundation, run by brothers, Dr. Gary Bitonte and Dr. David Bitonte, for a new dental college, according to a news release. This is the largest commitment NEOMED has received from a singular donor.
“As physicians and the sons of a dentist, Gary and David Bitonte have a firsthand appreciation of the critical access to care and concerns Northeast Ohioans have held for some time,” Dr. John T. Langell, president of NEOMED, said in a release. “The Bitontes have a history of giving back and their commitment to this much-needed dental college is a reflection of their family’s lifelong calling, contributions and caring for residents of Northeast Ohio and beyond.”
The Bitontes have been planning their support of the NEOMED dental college for over a year, the release stated. The college will be named the Bitonte College of Dentistry, in their honor.
“Gary and I talked about it and we said, ‘Wow, this is a fabulous thing for NEOMED. It’s a fabulous opportunity for the community and for Northeast Ohio,’” David Bitonte, said in the release. “And to add a third dental school to the state of Ohio, which is in need of dentists, we thought that was a wonderful way to honor our parents. We didn’t quite know how we would do it or what we would do (if NEOMED moved forward). But we held a number of meetings with NEOMED to arrive at the opportunity that’s presented today.”
Gary Bitonte, said in the news release, “It’s been known for a long time that there is a correlation between oral health and general health and there are several examples of that. For instance, if there are detrimental bacteria in the oral cavity, the bacteria can migrate through the bloodstream and attach to the valves of the heart, which subsequently gives severe cardiac problems. So that’s one instance. And another one … If a person has difficulty chewing their food, then digestive and nutritional problems will ensue and that will lead to general overall deterioration in their health. Those are just two examples. There are many times when the two specialties come together.”
The brothers’ late mother, Helen Bitonte, strongly supported the dental practice and was a part of the dental auxiliary, a group of spouses of dentists who would speak about dental care in schools and other similar environments, according to the release.
“Our father was at the forefront of so many things, but my mother certainly was one of those people supporting him and all the dentists in the area with her outreach that would promote proper dental care.,” David Bitonte said. “Our parents also felt strongly about philanthropy. They believed that they had a wonderful life together and they were rewarded richly in many ways. One of the ways to give back to the community and support it and young people going to school was to provide monies that would encourage their education and finance their education.”
The $10 million commitment covers 40% of the projected $25 million cost of the new college.
“We are very grateful to the Bitonte family and their unwavering support for NEOMED,” Doreen Knapp Riley, vice president for advancement at NEOMED and president of the NEOMED Foundation, said in the release. “We hope others in the community, who have the capacity to help us bring positive change to these unmet dental needs, join the Bitontes in making philanthropic investments to launch this dental college more quickly.”
The university presented a needs assessment to the NEOMED board of trustees during its quarterly meeting held Sept. 15 and was granted approval to add a dental college to improve health in Northeast Ohio and beyond, according to a news release.
During the meeting, Langell, cited evidence of Ohio’s need for more dentists to serve rural and under-resourced populations, the release stated.
“According to the ADA, many patients have limited access to dental treatment due to a variety issues such as socioeconomic status, education and limited access to care; an emergency room visit may be their only option,” Langell said in the release. “In Ohio, 77 out of 88 counties are considered HPSAs regarding dental care.”
Through the university’s clinical network, NEOMED had been hearing from partners, including Akron Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital, Mercy Health – St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, Summa Health, The Cleveland Dental Institute and University Hospitals that there is a maldistribution of dentists and a significant shortage of dental practices, particularly in rural areas, according to the release. In 2021, the university began exploring the feasibility of a dental college, including the number of training sites for dentists, curricular needs and the financial sustainability.
The university estimates it with take approximately $25 million to successfully launch and sustain the dental college, according to the release.