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Mandibular Fractures

The mandible, or lower jaw, is the most frequent site of fracture on the face. Even though it is a very strong bone, its prominent position on the face makes it particularly vulnerable. Mandibular fractures can cause serious swelling, they can inhibit movement in the jaw, and they can cause changes in the contour and structure of the jaw (for example, a change in the alignment of the teeth). One of the main aspects of treating a broken jaw involves making sure the alignment of the teeth returns to normal.

The fracture can occur at different parts of the bone, depending on what angle the mandible has been impacted. Also, because of the mandible's rounded shape, a traumatic injury may cause the mandible to fracture in more than one place.

Treatment

The general procedure for treating a fractured mandible is first to immobilize the jaw and set the break - this is called "reduction." Often, a surgeon can set the bone simply by manually repositioning it - this is called "closed reduction" because it can be done through the skin and does not involve major surgery. Once the bone is set, the jaw must be stabilized and kept stationary for a period of time, to allow the broken segments to grow back together. This process, called "fixation," may involve wiring the jaw shut for two to six weeks.

In more complex mandibular fractures, setting the bone might require "open reduction." This means surgically exposing the bone and re-positioning the fractured pieces with the use of small screws and plates that are attached directly to the bone. These plates and screws then act to stabilize the jaw during the healing process, as the bones grow back together.

Regardless of the kind of fixation technique used, patients recovering from a broken mandible will have to maintain a liquid or soft diet for some time after the injury - depending on the fracture, this might be from one to six weeks.

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