Annika Johnson wins William H. Bell Award for Predoctoral Achievement in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Annika Johnson, DDS '22

Annika Johnson, DDS ’22, is the University of Minnesota’s recipient of the William H. Bell Award for Predoctoral Achievement in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery for 2021. She was nominated for the award by Rachel Uppgaard, DDS, on behalf of her significant contributions to the division of oral and maxillofacial surgery and her research within the division.

The William H. Bell award is given annually to one third-year student at each accredited dental school in the United States on behalf of the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. It honors William H. Bell, whose research “developed the biological basis and clinical rationale for orthognathic surgery,” according to the ACOMS.

Uppgaard nominated Johnson for the award because of her “sincere dedication to becoming an OMFS surgeon since she began dental school.”

Johnson’s dedication and her work in oral and maxillofacial surgery spans back to her sophomore year of college, when she began shadowing in the clinic. “I only ever got positive encouragement from the department of oral surgery,” she recalled. “No one ever said, ‘you can’t do this, it’s too hard;’ instead, they’d help me make things happen.”

That support encouraged Johnson as she began her pre doctoral studies and decided to focus on oral surgery. “You’re seeing patients when they might be in a vulnerable state, in oral surgery,” she explained. “That has always been my biggest motivator: the opportunities for service.”

Johnson applied for the summer research program after her first year of dental school, and that’s when she was paired with Uppgaard. “That’s been my biggest blessing in dental school,” Johnson said. “She’s been my number one advocate, and you don’t get that everywhere. It’s a competitive and difficult journey.”

Throughout her program, Johnson has focused on a variety of topics in research, including odontogenic infections and treatment, SARS-COV-2 splatter studies, local anesthesia practice for preclinical students during COVID, and Fanconi anemia. “She is tireless in her research efforts,” said Uppgaard.

Johnson is involved in extracurricular activities beyond the classroom; she’s on the executive board of the American Student Dental Association and is co-president of the Oral Surgery Club. But one of her favorite parts of dental school is seeing patients.

“People come into oral surgery with a lot of pain, disease, and uncertainty,” she said. “It’s important to me to educate them so they know exactly what’s going on.” She focuses on advocating for her patients and explaining everything to them. “I’ve always been very emotionally connected to my patients,” she said.

That connection hasn’t gone unnoticed. “She demonstrates caring concern for others, which is highlighted in her interpersonal interactions,” Uppgaard described. “She is self-motivated to provide the highest level of care.”

Johnson was surprised and honored to find out that she’d won the Bell Award, and sees it as a further indication of the support she’s always received from the department. “I’m really thankful to have such supportive people here at the school,” she said.

Her research team is grateful for Johnson’s presence, too. Uppgaard said Johnson is “an exemplary student who will become an excellent surgeon.”

“She is brilliant, yet humble. She is hard working and meticulous. She doesn’t let her significant experience in oral and maxillofacial surgery go to her head. Instead, she carries herself with grace, common sense, and an openness to learn that we can all learn from.”