Ignite | Fall 2022

Family Tradition of Philanthropy


Karen Pham cooks noodles in her kitchen.At its Sept. 2022 meeting, the Board of Trustees of Northeast Ohio Medical University approved the development of a dental college to improve health in Northeast Ohio and beyond.

Less than a month later, the NEOMED Foundation received the largest individual gift commitment in its history – $10 million – in support of the new college.

The commitment was made by Drs. Gary (above left) and David Bitonte (right), directors of the Dr. Dominic A. and Helen M. Bitonte Family Foundation.

Bitonte is a familiar name to the NEOMED community – the brothers are the sons of Dr. Dominic A. and Helen M. Bitonte (both deceased), whose photo hangs in the Bitonte Atrium across from the Great Hall.

The $10-million commitment will support the areas of greatest need restricted to the establishment, ongoing staffing, support and endowment of the College. In honor of the Bitonte Family Foundation’s commitment, the College will be named the Dr. Dominic A. and Helen M. Bitonte College of Dentistry.


The Bitontes have been longtime supporters of NEOMED through both philanthropy and volunteering.

Gary Bitonte, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of anatomy at NEOMED and teaches in the Wasson Center for Clinical Skills Training, Assessment and Scholarship. David Bitonte, D.O., M.B.A., M.P.H., is a clinical assistant professor of family and community medicine and serves on admissions committees, interviewing prospective new students for the University.

Three men talking in the atrium at NEOMED.

Drs. David and Gary Bitonte, left and right, with NEOMED President John Langell, center.

So it’s not surprising that the Bitonte brothers were quick to show their support upon hearing the news of the Board’s approval of a new college. However, their consideration had been long in the making since they first heard that NEOMED was looking into the feasibility of a dental college — nearly two years in the making, in fact.

“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,’” Dr. David Bitonte said. “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."


With a dentist for a dad, the Bitonte brothers grew up appreciating the importance of oral health.

“In fact, I remember my parents giving out toothbrushes and toothpaste for Halloween, and sometimes children would look at that and they go, Why are they giving me this? But you know their parents appreciated it!” Dr. David Bitonte recalled.

Dr. Dominic Bitonte practiced dentistry with his brother, Robert, in downtown Youngstown for 35 years.

“We have another uncle, their older brother, Joseph Bitonte, who was a prosthetics specialist. His degree was in engineering, and an honorary Ph.D., but he was also on the faculty of the Ohio State [University] College of Dentistry. My daughter, Gina Bitonte, is also a practicing dentist, and we have numerous relatives that are dentists, too. So we've been around the dental profession all of our lives, even though David and I are physicians,” Dr. Gary Bitonte said.

The family matriarch, Helen, was also heavily involved in the family dental practice. She strongly supported the practice and was part of the dental auxiliary — a group composed of the dental spouses who would go into schools and other settings to talk about proper oral care. 


“My mother and father were always interested in advancement of education, and we always were informed that it is a very valuable thing to have,” Dr. Gary Bitonte noted. “My grandparents also were immigrants from Europe [Italy] and they worked in the steel mills. Even though they were not highly educated, they were also aware of the value of an education.”

“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,” Dr. David Bitonte added. “Our parents…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 Bitonte Family Foundation supports a variety of philanthropic causes, “mainly universities because of the educational aspect,” Dr. Gary Bitonte noted. The foundation has also supported hospitals, churches and related religious orders, and cultural institutions.

“Our parents always felt strongly about philanthropy,” Dr. David Bitonte said. “And in fact, that's the reason that they set the foundation up many years ago.”

Other educational beneficiaries of the family foundation include the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services at Youngstown State University and the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, where Dominic earned his D.D.S. degree and which established the Bitonte Society to recognize gifts from major donors to its capital campaign.


While the Bitonte brothers practice medicine, they are quick to point out the intersection of dentistry with overall health and well-being.

“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,” Dr. Gary Bitonte said.

“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,” he added.