Addressing dental emergencies in a COVID-19 world

Rachel Uppgaard, DDS, is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and teaching faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. When the Governor order the suspension of all dental procedures across Minnesota except emergencies, she volunteered to be part of a team of faculty and residents handling dental emergencies for a growing number of patients. We recently talked with Dr. Uppgaard about how she is addressing these unique challenges.

What kinds of emergencies are you addressing? 

The patients we are seeing now are those with debilitating toothaches, infections, facial trauma and pathology that requires more urgent treatment. Our goal is to keep patients out of the hospital emergency departments so that they are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 and to limit the strain on hospitals. We see many patients who are in significant pain, have difficulty opening their mouths, or swelling. 

How are your work days now different from before? 

Previously all of my time was spent in clinic or in the operating room. We had four floors buzzing with students, patients and faculty. Now, we have teams providing a range of emergency care only. My partner and I are on rotating surgical teams with our residents to limit the possibility of broad exposure. So I am in clinic half of the week working from home the other half, coordinating care. My colleagues and I just completed the first phase of a study investigating the use of hydrogen peroxide in oral surgery to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through aerosols generated in surgeries. And I serve on the Board of Dentistry’s COVID-19 task force.  

What has surprised you?

I spend a lot more time on the phone or on Zoom with others, brainstorming how best to approach the clinical problems we face. I have created more connections during a time when I expected to feel more isolated. It is a testament to how incredible the University of Minnesota and M Health communities are, that at a time of great stress, we can come together and work towards excellent patient care and the safety of our teams. 

How are you staying active/balanced during this unique time?

I watch my daughter Ella do art projects and explore her world. I am training for a marathon which will probably be cancelled, but I get outside and enjoy the weather while running with our Brittany spaniels.  I am planting seeds for a vegetable garden in my dining room. 

What is something that provides you with inspiration during this time?

Watching providers across so many specialties step up and show great leadership in Minnesota is an inspiration. While our country is chaotic, I feel like together, we are Minnesota strong and there is a sense of purpose and calm that comes with that.

Rachel Uppgaard, DDS
Rachel Uppgaard, DDS