Pediatric Mandible Fractures Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 31, 2023
  • Author: Abbas A Younes, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Surgical Therapy

Management of mandibular fractures

The general principles of the management of maxillofacial trauma are similar in both children and adults, but the ongoing developmental changes in the growing face of a child must be taken into consideration. [15, 16, 17, 18, 19] In the aforementioned study by Smith et al, children over age 12 years were found to be significantly more likely than younger children to be treated surgically. [14]

Using a statewide California database to examine the treatment of pediatric patients who sustained facial fractures, Chopra et al reported that 32% underwent surgical repair. Of those facial fractures that were operatively treated, mandibular fractures made up 40%, compared with 16.2% and 15.1% for nasal and orbital fractures, respectively. There was a positive correspondence between the rate of surgical intervention for facial fracture and age, with such repair peaking in children aged 12 to 15 years. [20]

Adequate treatment of mandibular fractures should accomplish several goals. Restoration of occlusion, function, and facial balance is necessary for therapy to be considered successful. Proper treatment may prevent complications such as growth disturbance and infection. [21] The specific treatment of mandibular fractures depends on location of the fracture, degree of bony displacement, occlusal status, and dentition status of the child. Methods of fixation vary by dental status. [22]

Before age 2 years, the deciduous teeth are not completely erupted. Children at this stage of development are treated as though edentulous. An acrylic splint may be fixed in place with circummandibular wires. If immobilization of the jaw is necessary, the splint may be fixed to both occlusive surfaces with both circummandibular wires and wires through the pyriform aperture. [2, 3]

Once deciduous teeth are established, at about ages 2-5 years, they may be used for fixation. Although the deciduous teeth are conically shaped (rather than having a cervical waist), interdental wiring may be used. Arch bars are somewhat more difficult to secure below the gum line. Redundant support may be necessary. Mini-arch bars attached with resin may be used to treat nondisplaced fractures, avoiding immobilization of the mandible.

A state of mixed dentition exists in children aged 6-12 years. During this period, dental stability is more precarious. Primary tooth roots are resorbing. Teeth often are loose or absent. In children aged 5-8 years, deciduous molars may be used for fixation. In children aged 7-11 years, the primary molars and incisors can be used to anchor fixation. When adequate dentition is not available for fixation, Gunning splints may be used as in the younger patient. In children older than 9-12 years, standard intermaxillary fixation (IMF) with arch bars is possible because enough permanent dentition has been established. Braces may also be used briefly for fixation.

Rapid healing and the possibility of remodeling decrease the duration of immobilization necessary in the pediatric patient. Most studies report 2-3 weeks to be adequate, although a few recommend longer treatment. The rapidity of healing also dictates that management of the fractures should occur early. If treatment is delayed, removal of callus formed at the fracture site often is necessary.

If open reduction and fixation (OR&F) is required, use an intraoral approach, where possible. Place monocortical screws at the inferior border of the mandible to avoid damaging the underlying teeth. The open surgical approach to the condyle is through submandibular or preauricular approach, depending on location of fracture.

Eppley reported the use of resorbable polylactic and polyglycolic acid plates and screws in 14 patients with displaced fractures of the symphysis, parasymphysis, body, and ramus. [23, 24] Patients underwent open reduction and either 1.5-mm or 2.0-mm plate and screw fixation with no long-term implant-related complications.

Condylar fractures

In 1952, MacLennan reported a series of mandibular condyle fractures. [25] Approximately 6% of these fractures occurred in children younger than 15 years. Less than 3% of condylar fractures were in children younger than 10 years.

Condylar fractures are classified into 3 groups. Intracapsular fractures involve the articular surface. High condylar fractures occur above the sigmoid notch and usually are medially dislocated by the force of the impact. Low subcondylar fractures usually are greenstick fractures in children and are the most common type of pediatric mandibular fracture overall.

However, in children younger than 5 years, crush injuries to the articular disk are more common. In the very young child ( < 3 y), the condylar neck is short and thick, and the force of trauma generally dissipates on the articular surface. Injuries to the articular surface may cause hemarthrosis and subsequent bony ankylosis. Early range of motion is important in preventing this complication. Injury to the cartilage also affects the growth of the mandible. In children older than 5 years, neck fractures are more common and are regarded as relatively self-correcting.

In contrast to adult patients, the vast majority of pediatric patients with condylar fractures may be treated nonoperatively. Usually, these patients have normal occlusion and range of motion. Early treatment includes analgesics and a soft diet. Encourage range of motion exercise once edema has subsided. Conservatively manage comminuted fractures of the head and condyle. In the edentulous child, no immobilization is required; in other patients, place IMF for 2 weeks. Even if displaced, the fracture typically heals well. Studies have demonstrated the ability of the condyle to remodel.

Indications for jaw immobilization are bilateral fractures with an open bite or severe movement limitation or deviation. Generally, the period of immobilization is 2-3 weeks followed by a period of 6-8 weeks of guiding elastics to counteract the force of the masseter-pterygoid sling, which pulls the inferior border of the mandible superiorly and tends to shorten the ramus.

Open reduction is indicated in a few situations as follows: (1) dislocation of the mandibular condyle into the middle cranial fossa, (2) condyle prohibiting mandibular movement, and (3) bilateral condylar fractures causing reduced rami height and open bite (although some advocate immobilization alone).

A study by Cascone et al indicated that open reduction and external fixation can be successfully used in children with mandibular condylar fractures. The report involved 21 pediatric patients, including 16 with monocondylar fractures and five with bicondylar fractures. The investigators found that the children achieved good postsurgical recovery with regard to maximal mouth opening, maximal lateral excursion, and vertical height of the ramus, with occlusion returning to preinjury status in all patients. [26]

Arch fractures

When fractures occur in the body of the mandible, fracture lines tend to be long and oblique, extending inferiorly and anteriorly. In adults, fracture lines generally travel in an inferior and posterior direction.

Management options range from observation to open reduction and rigid fixation, depending on the clinical scenario. Greenstick and nondisplaced fractures can be managed with analgesics and a soft diet. Keep patients on a soft or liquid diet. Although initial examination may reveal normal occlusion, 3-4 weeks of close follow-up of these patients is important. Investigate any new symptoms or findings with new radiologic studies.

Muscular pull and masticatory stresses can cause displacement of the fractured segments. If reduction is required, closed reduction can be attempted with a brief period of immobilization, using a technique appropriate to the patient's dental status. However, fractured symphyseal segments are frequently displaced by mylohyoid, geniohyoid, and anterior belly of the digastric muscles. When the fracture is unfavorable, rigid fixation is needed. Perform mini-plate placement after establishing occlusion in IMF. Use monocortical screws when dentition is in jeopardy; take care with placement of drill holes. [27]

Body and angle fractures

Body and angle fractures frequently are greenstick fractures and are managed with a soft diet and pain control. The angle region is not amenable to splints. If the fracture is nondisplaced or if only minimal to moderate displacement exists, closed reduction and IMF or IMF with elastics usually suffice. If open reduction is required, an extraoral approach may be needed.

Dentoalveolar fractures

Dentoalveolar fractures are relatively common. Replacement of primary teeth is unnecessary; however, replacement may provide space maintenance until permanent dentition erupts. Permanent teeth should be replaced within 2 hours. Prior to dental attention, the tooth should be returned to the socket and held in place lightly. If this is not possible, the tooth may be transported in saline or milk. If the fracture fragment is large, reposition it, and place the patient in IMF. In 1993, Tanaka reported that 5 of 21 patients treated in this manner had resultant malocclusion; therefore, he recommended that a longer than 2- to 3-week period of fixation be considered. [28] If the alveolus fragment is large, plate-screw fixation may be used, if this is possible without injuring the teeth.


Outcome and Prognosis

In the study by Smith et al, a higher adverse outcome rate was associated with surgical management and with the presence of multiple fractures, although in no case did either the patient or surgeon find that an adverse outcome significantly affected mandibular function. Patients in the study were followed up for an average of 19.5 months. [14]

Effects of fracture/treatment on mandibular growth/function

In the literature discussing the effects of fractures on mandibular growth, a dichotomy exists between reports of nearly perfect healing of conservatively managed displaced condylar fractures and reports of severe growth disturbances or ankylosis. Some of this discrepancy may be explained by differences in the types of injuries sustained at various stages of development. The anatomic area of greatest concern is the condylar growth center. [29]

In 1956, MacLennan proclaimed that children younger than 5 years are more susceptible to growth changes. These changes decrease directly with age. [4] Children younger than 5 years are more likely to sustain injuries to the articular cartilage. Similarly, Rowe reported in 1969 that injuries to children younger than 3 years produce severe deformities, injuries to children aged 3-6 years result in moderate deformities, and injuries to teenagers heal in a similar fashion to adults. [5]

In 1971, Leake reported on long-term follow-up of pediatric mandibular condyle fractures. [30] Leake concluded that if occlusion is normal after swelling has resolved, early motion is associated with excellent results and avoids potential complications of fixation. In 13 patients followed up at 2 months to 17 years, no abnormalities of range of motion, deviation, open bite, crossbite, overbite, retrusion, pain, or clicking were noted. Even in initially displaced fractures, eventual repositioning was documented radiographically. These patients ranged in age from 2.5-12 years at the time of injury, with an average age of younger than 6 years.

In 1993, Norholt reported that the dysfunction resulting from condylar fractures increased with increasing age at the time of trauma; however, the patients were aged 5-20 years at the time of the mandibular fracture. [31] Radiologic abnormalities were commonly found but did not correlate with the severity or presence of clinical abnormality. None of the 55 patients whose cases were followed developed ankylosis or serious asymmetry.

McGuirt's 1987 follow-up study of patients after childhood mandibular fractures revealed abnormalities of occlusion and dentition in 35% of patients, including avulsed teeth, nonvital pulps, and hypoplastic teeth; up to two thirds of patients had radiographic abnormalities, and about a fifth had multiple radiographic abnormalities. [32] Sixteen percent had clinical abnormalities. Based on these results, McGuirt recommends 6-8 weeks of guiding elastics after immobilization (to help pull the jaw forward), pterygoid muscle exercises, and long-term follow-up.

The cause(s) of growth disturbances remains unclear. Resultant abnormalities may be due to the loss of the growth stimulus or the mechanical restrictions and decreased blood supply secondary to scarring. Loss of range of motion may also affect growth. Studies show more tooth damage with plating than with wire fixation, possibly secondary to dissection that is more extensive and to manipulation. These findings may also be associated with the larger plates and screws formerly used.