Road to Leadership

Posted on: Thursday, 07/26/2018

Dr. Ron Mito, Class of 1976, GPR '77

Former Executive Associate Dean for Academic Personnel

For many individuals, an experience or person influenced them to pursue a certain path. In Dr. Ronald Mito’s case, it was a dentist from his hometown who turned a traumatic restorative experience into a focus to pursue dentistry. There were multiple events and conversations along the way that led Ron to an academic leadership position, most currently as the executive associate dean for academic programs and personnel. After 40 years of service to the dental school, Ron is retiring from this position and reflects on the life-changing ‘sentinel’ events that steered him along the way.

At 8 years old, Ronald Mito found out the hard way about how teeth were drilled and filled. After enduring a trip to a dentist, who used a drill powered by cords and pulleys with no anesthesia, his mother then took him to a younger dentist with more modern techniques. This younger dentist went on to act as Ron’s mentor throughout his adolescence and college years, and greatly influenced his decision to become a dentist.

“I knew I wanted to be a dentist at 8 years old,” said Ron. “I never wavered from that goal once. But, I also never thought I’d end up where I’m at now. It was a series of sentinel events that led me here.”

Ron grew up in a small town in Northern California, and at 12 years old began working for his father at his gas station. “I learned a lot of valuable life lessons pumping gas and cleaning windows,” said Ron. “Professionalism, customer service, and the importance and pursuit of education were principles that were ingrained in my character at a young age.”

Ron’s father was an instrumental figure in his life, and he followed his advice by choosing to go to U.C. Davis. It turned out to be a good choice. Among other things, he credits the university with providing a strong basic science education.

“In college, I learned that education isn’t about remembering every fact, it’s more about remembering the value of the information and the ability to relearn it,” said Ron. “It’s more about the concepts than the details.”

While classic rock, the Vietnam War, and the draft lottery were at their peak, Ron graduated with a Bachelor’s degree with honors in Biological Sciences and began applying to dental school. In 1972, he entered the UCLA School of Dentistry.

UCLA’s dental school wasn’t even 10 years old at that point, but the School had already built a good reputation for integrating basic science into clinical practice. “I loved dental school from the very beginning, but it wasn’t until I began treating patients that my love for providing a service to people came full circle,” reflected Ron. “The customer service skills I learned 15 years prior at my family’s gas station came back to help me.”

Ron graduated from the UCLA School of Dentistry in 1976 and went onto pursue a General Practice Residency certificate from the UCLA Hospital, which he completed in 1977. All through undergraduate school, dental school, and residency, Ron had plans to go back to Watsonville to take over the practice of his professional mentor. But after a long, introspective conversation with this mentor and friend, he came to the conclusion that his skills and training would be better suited for the larger population in Los Angeles.

After his postgraduate training and some prompting from a well-known medical anesthesiologist, Dr. Gerald Allen, Ron partnered with colleague, Dr. Joseph Chang, who had recently opened a private practice. They built one of the first practices in the country where the dentists, in conjunction with dental anesthesiologists, would provide treatment to patients under general anesthesia in their office. This was a novel concept at the time.

At first, the anesthesia was used for more complex cases, such as multiple restorations and surgical procedures. But, Ron and his partner began applying it for patients suffering from severe dental anxiety and phobia.

“We built a practice based on the management of fear,” said Ron. “We had people coming from all over the country to have dental treatment performed while under anesthesia. But, I realized that we were creating a population of people dependent on us who wouldn’t see anyone else.”

Ron felt he needed to approach dental anxiety with an alternative method and engaged Dr. Ken Mazey, a clinical psychologist, to help assess the patients and teach them coping skills and strategies through cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this process, they developed a rating system of fear and coping strategies, which are still used today.

While he was in private practice, Ron held a part-time faculty appointment at UCLA, and then in 1984 he was recruited for a full-time teaching position as an adjunct assistant professor by Dr. John Beumer. He taught hospital dentistry, directed the General Practice Residency, and became the Director of the Dental Fear and Anxiety Center. In 1986, he received a call from the dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry, who asked him if he would serve as the chair of Hospital Dentistry.

“That was another one of those sentinel events that changed my career path,” said Ron. “It was one of the first academic leadership positions I held and would kick-off my years of administrative service at UCLA.”

Over the years, Ron was asked to take on more and more responsibility. He served the School in several capacities, including associate dean for administration, associate dean for student affairs, and associate dean for clinical dental sciences. In 2011, he was appointed to his current position, in charge of all academic programs and faculty positions, and in 2015 was promoted to executive associate dean – a position second only to the dean of the school. Over the years Ron has served with five Deans, however the last 18 years were under Dr. No-Hee Park.

After he retires, Ron will continue working part-time for the dental school as a special assistant to Dean Paul Krebsbach, helping in any way he can. Through the many roles Ron has held, the valuable life and professional lessons he’s learned have helped pave his road to leadership and professional fulfillment.