Open fractures can generally be regarded as contaminated. Since fractures in the dentate area have communication with the oral cavity, these are considered open fractures.
Infections with clinical relevance show swelling, pain, fever, reddening, and secretion of pus. In the case of acute infection radiographic signs can be absent. Chronic cases exhibit the typical signs of osteomyelitis.
Special conditions influencing adequate internal fixation
Instability produces and maintains the infectious process.
Osteosynthesis of an acutely infected fracture or pseudarthrosis must be a safe procedure. Under these conditions, high rigidity (load bearing) is mandatory. Therefore the locking reconstruction system 2.4 is recommended. It is important not to place any screws into the infected bone area which must be spared from screw insertion. The reconstruction plate functions as a bridging device. Large areas of infected or necrotic bone require debridemnet and either immediate or delayed cancellous bone grafting.
Antibiotic therapy alone does not eliminate the infection as long as the fracture is unstable.
Fractures in the dentate area are regarded as open fractures because the gingiva is usually lacerated. These fractures are contaminated. An acute infection is not reflected in the x-ray examination. In chronic cases the bone becomes infected exhibiting the typical clinical and radiographic signs of osteomyelitis.
In addition there will be inflammatory signs such as swelling, pain, fever, reddening, and secretion of pus.
Clinical photograph showing an infected fracture between the first and second molar. The pericoronal gingiva of the second molar contains pus and the swelling fills the vestibular sulcus.
OPG confirming the clinical diagnosis of an infected fracture site in the
posterior mandibular body with radiolucency around the second molar and an
extended fracture zone containing several bone sequestra.
PA view of the same case.
CT scans of the same patient detailing the condition of the fracture
Patients with infected fractures often present a constellation of
- Alcohol addiction
- Drug abuse
- Self-neglect and social deprivation
Medical risk factors:
- Chronic corticoid medication
- Immune deficiency
- Diabetes mellitus
Bridging of a segmental defect
A predilection zone for infected fractures is the posterior mandibular body
or the angle region. Contributing factors in this area are due to the
occurrence of impacted or partially impacted wisdom teeth. The chronic
infection leads to osteomyelitis with inflammatory resorption and sequestration
of the bone in the proximity of the fracture line.
The current concept is that the infection and osteomyelitis are propagated
by the instability and mobility of the fracture fragments.
When dealing with osteomyelitis, the infected fracture will be debrided and
leave the patient with a defect fracture situation.
If the bony defect extends throughout the entire fracture, grafting will be
Choice of implant
Since the rigidity of large plates is defined by the number and diameter of
the inserted screws, it is recommended to use reconstruction plates compatible
with large diameter screws only, ie, 2.4 or 3.0 mm screws.
The span of the plate has to cover such a length that at least three screws
on either side of the defect can be inserted into intact bone. Very often, with
large span defects, it is advisable to have four or more screws on either side
of the defect.
Clearing of the infected area
After wide exposure of the outer bony surface the infected area must be
cleared of any granulation tissue.
The extent of the exposure must anticipate the application of a large
reconstruction plate allowing for the placement of at least three screws on
either side away from the defect.
Remove the dead bone (sequestra) and decorticate the bony surfaces of the
Smoothing bony edges
Sharp bony edges should be burred away. The remaining bone surfaces should
have bleeding patches to make sure that the vascularization is
This will define the size of the eventual defect.
The mandibular nerve should be preserved, if not irreversibly damaged by the
chronic infectious process.
Tooth and sequestra removed.
MMF and preliminary fragment fixation
The tooth bearing distal part of the fracture is secured via MMF. The
condyle bearing part is positioned arbitrarily by pushing the condyle into the
fossa and a small (adaptation) plate is applied onto the superior border of the
defect in order to maintain the position of the fragments while the
reconstruction plate is adapted and secured.
Contouring the plate
The load-bearing bridging plate is contoured to the lower border with the
help of a malleable template.
The contour of the plate must match the template in all three
for a detailed description of the bending procedure.
The bridging plate is firmly applied to the bone with plate forceps and the
screws are inserted in the usual manner, starting with the screws closest to
the defect zone.
for a detailed description of screw insertion into locking plates.
Option: remove adaptation plate
After all screws are inserted, optionally, remove the adaptation plate at
the superior border of the mandible.
Load-bearing osteosynthesis is stable and cannot be influenced
postoperatively using elastic tractions. Therefore, the occlusion must be
checked after applying the plate. If it does not fit it must be decided whether
the occlusion can be corrected by minimally grinding the teeth or repositioning
of the bone and plate. The revision of the osteosynthesis may be difficult
because of reduced quality of the bone and reduced bony buttressing.
Removal of arch bars
Usually, this type of fracture occurs in compromised or noncompliant patients.
Therefore, one might consider removal of all MMF appliances prior to intraoral
wound closure (at the tooth extraction site). This can facilitate oral
The intraoral mucoperiosteum is closed using the envelope technique with a
flap derived from the lateral vestibule.
This is done prior to any bone grafting in order to separate the defect from
the oral cavity.
If immediate bone grafting is desired, bone is harvested from the anterior
iliac crest or the tibial head according to preference and the amount of bone
In this case a corticocancellous piece and cancellous chips were taken from
the inner table of the iliac crest.
The corticocancellous piece was shaped approximately to the size of the
defect. Holes were drilled to increase the bony surface in order to enhance
Cancellous chips were harvested to augment and fill in the defect.
Applying the bone graft
All bone grafts are inserted through the external approach.
The shape of the corticocancellous bone graft is checked and introduced into
The remaining dead space is filled with cancellous chips which are further
used to augment the area.
The use of suction drain is at the discretion of the surgeon. The external
wound is closed in layers.
Panoramic x-ray showing the plate osteosynthesis bridging the defect zone in
the left posterior mandibular body.
Note: there are three screws on each side of the defect and these are placed
away from the fracture. The defect zone appears opaque because of the bone
A nasogastric tube is used to feed the patient to enhance intraoral
If arch bars or MMF screws are used, they may be removed at the conclusion
of surgery or may be maintained for several weeks at the discretion of the
Postoperative x-rays are taken within the first days after surgery. In an
uneventful course, follow-up x-rays are taken at the 4–6 week interval.
It will be necessary to see the patient after approximately 1 week to assess
the stability of the occlusion. In an infected mandibular fracture, the
aftercare has to include the observation of a number of factors including the
special wound situation, the general health condition (nutritional status,
diabetes, and particular medication), psychosocial status, economical situation
and specific local regimens. The surgeon must also evaluate patient response to
the current antibiotic regimens and check for systemic parameters (for example,
CRP, white cell blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate). Patients will
have to be re-examined periodically to rule out recurring signs of infection.
At each visit, the surgeon must evaluate patient ability to perform adequate
oral hygiene and wound care. It may be necessary to provide additional
instruction to assure appropriate hygiene and wound care.
If a malocclusion is detected, the surgeon must ascertain the etiology of it
(using the appropriate imaging technique). If the malocclusion is secondary to
surgical edema or muscle splinting, training elastics may be beneficial. The
lightest elastics possible are used for guidance, because active motion of the
mandible is desirable. Patients should be shown how to place and remove the
elastics using a hand mirror.
If the malocclusion is secondary to a bony problem due to inadequate
reduction or hardware failure or displacement, elastic training will be of no
benefit. The patient must return to the operating room for revision
Follow-up appointments are at the discretion of the surgeon, and will also
depend on the stability of the occlusion noted on the first visit. If a
malocclusion is noted and treatable by using training elastics, at weekly
appointments to determine the progression are recommended.
Postoperatively, patients will have to follow three basic
Depending upon the stability of the internal fixation, the diet can vary
between liquid and semi-liquid to “as tolerated”, at the discretion of the
surgeon. Any elastics are removed during eating.
2. Oral hygiene
Patients having only extraoral approaches are not compromised in their
routine oral hygiene measures and should continue with their daily
Patients with intraoral wounds must be instructed in appropriate oral hygiene
procedures. The presence of the arch-bars and any elastics makes this a more
difficult procedure than normal. A soft toothbrush (dipping in warm water makes
it softer) should be used to clean the surfaces of the teeth and arch-bars. Any
elastics are removed for oral hygiene procedures. Chlorhexidine oral rinses
should be prescribed and used at least three times each day to help sanitize
the mouth. For larger debris, a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide/chlorhexidine
can be used. The bubbling action of the hydrogen peroxide helps remove debris.
A Waterpik® is a very useful tool to help remove debris from the wires. If a
Waterpik is used, care should be taken not to direct the jet stream directly
over intraoral incisions as this may lead to wound dehiscence.
Physiotherapy can be prescribed at the first visit and opening and
excursive exercises begun as soon as possible. Goals should be set, and,
typically, 40 mm of maximum interincisal jaw opening should be attained by 4
weeks postoperatively. If the patient cannot fully open his mouth, additional
passive physical therapy may be required such as Therabite or tongue-blade