David Bitonti took it to the limit. After three decades in the U.S. Navy, the 56-year-old oral and maxillofacial surgeon and dental anesthesiologist had to call it quits in the military—that’s the law. But he was not about to give up the profession he loves only to be confined to relaxing in a rocking chair. He knew he had more work to do. “I’d be bored stiff if I were completely retired now,” Dr. Bitonti said.
And he found just the right spot with a former military colleague who started a practice after his own retirement. Since March, Dr. Bitonti has been commuting from his Kentlands home to Will Surgical Arts, LLC in Ijamsville to work on medical and dental problems associated with the face, mouth, jaws and teeth. He spent much of the months since his August retirement from the Navy doing volunteer work—and filling out the paperwork to obtain the necessary licenses.
“The practice of medicine is very similar,” said Dr. Bitonti, comparing his former and current workplaces. “But the population is a little bit different.” In the Navy, based at Walter Reed, most of his patients were younger, although he also treated some retirees; now his practice extends to individuals of all ages. “I’ve always enjoyed seeing patients, even when I had more administrative positions. I’ve met some wonderful people—especially working with Wounded Warriors.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Vincent College and a dental degree from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, the Hempfield, Pennsylvania, native enlisted in the Navy, where his assignments included serving aboard the aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, and the submarine, the USS Holland. The Navy supported his advancement in his field. At the Naval Dental Clinic in Norfolk, Virginia, Dr. Bitonti completed an advanced clinical program certificate in exodontia (extraction of teeth) and at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, he earned a surgery residency certificate in oral and maxillofacial surgery.
For much of his Naval career, Dr. Bitonti worked in Bethesda at the National Naval and Walter Reed National Military medical centers, and then at the merged entity, the tri-service medical facility known since 2011 as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Over the years, his titles included commanding officer; senior military advisor to the commander; chief of staff; deputy commander; director for surgical services; chairman and residency program associate director, oral and maxillofacial surgery; and specialty advisor to the U.S. Navy Surgeon General.
From 2009 to 2011, the captain was instrumental in integrating and transitioning to the unified medical center, and won the Legion of Merit for his leadership during the process. In 2013, he became commander of Naval Support Activity Bethesda, responsible for operational support to Walter Reed, the Warrior Transition Brigade and more than 30 other agencies.
Prompted by two dental issues promoted by professional dental organizations during April, Dr. Bitonti said he wants to raise awareness in his own community. National Facial Protection Month emphasized reminding adults and children about using personal protection equipment—like mouth guards, face shields and helmets—to avoid sports-related injuries. Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week advocated a knowledge of symptoms, routine self-examination, and at least annual regular screenings by a dentist because early detection is important for treatment and cure.
All the moving around geographically and long hours at work meant sacrifice from Dr. Bitonti’s family—Lisa, his wife of almost 32 years, and their two children. If his beeper beckoned the doctor when he had promised to watch a T-ball game, they had to understand. And Lisa, who came from a Navy family and knew well what it involved, selflessly took on extra parenting duties.
A benefit came in the form of solid family values—a dedication to service and a habit of volunteer work—that DJ, 29, expresses in his work as a medical support assistant at the medical center and Alexandra, 25, in her work as coordinator of sports programs for the United Service Organizations (USO). Also residing in the Bitontis’ Kent Oaks Way home is Bobbie, an eight-year-old Goldador, bred to have a Golden Retriever’s sensitivity and a Labrador Retriever’s tolerance. The family adopted the retired service dog that Lisa takes along to her ongoing volunteer work at the medical center.
“What has allowed me to do what I do is my family,” Dr. Bitonti said. “Their love, support and understanding have made it all possible.”