Imaging in traumatic mandibular fractures
A fracture of the mandible is a common trauma presentation amongst young males and represents one of the most frequently encountered fractured bones within the viscerocranium. Historically, assault was the dominant contributing factor but now due to the increased number of vehicles used per capita, motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause. Mandibular fractures can be classified anatomically, by dentition, by muscle group and by severity. The fracture may also be closed, open, comminuted, displaced or pathological. It is important that the imaging modality used identifies the classification as this will decide definitive treatment. X-ray projections have typically been used to detect a mandibular fracture, but are limited to an anteroposterior (AP), lateral and oblique view in an unstable trauma patient. These views are inadequate to detail the level of fracture displacement and show poor detail of the condylar region. Computer tomography (CT) is the imaging modality of choice when assessing a traumatic mandibular injury and can demonstrate a 100% sensitivity in detecting a fracture. This is through use of a multidetector-row CT, which reduces motion blur and therefore produces accurate coronal and sagittal reconstructions. Furthermore, reconstructive three-dimensional CT images gained from planar views, allows a better understanding of the spatial relationship of the fracture with other anatomical landmarks. This ensures a better appreciation of the severity and classification of a mandibular fracture, which therefore influences operative planning. Ultrasound is another useful modality in detecting a mandibular fracture when the patient is too unstable to be transferred to a CT scanner. The sensitivity however is less in comparison to a CT series of images and provides limited detail on the fracture pattern. Magnetic resonance imaging demonstrates use in assessing soft tissue injury of the temporomandibular joint but this is unlikely to be of priority when initially assessing a trauma patient.