The nascent field of craniofacial distraction osteogenesis has not yet been subjected to a rigorous evaluation of techniques and outcomes. Consequently, many of the standard approaches to distraction have been borrowed from the experience with long bones in orthopedic surgery. The ideal "latency period" of neutral fixation, rate and rhythm of distraction, and consolidation period have not yet been determined for the human facial skeleton. In addition, because the individual craniofacial surgeon's experience with distraction has generally been small, outcomes and meaningful complication rates have not yet been published. In this study, a four-page questionnaire was sent to 2476 craniofacial and oral/maxillofacial surgeons throughout the world, asking about their experiences with distraction osteogenesis. Information about the types of cases, indications for surgery, surgical techniques, postoperative management, outcomes, and complications were tabulated. Of 274 respondents (response rate, 11.4 percent), 148 indicated that they used distraction in their surgical practice. One hundred forty-five completed surveys were entered into a database that provided information about 3278 craniofacial distraction cases. Statistical analyses were performed comparing the rates of premature consolidation, fibrous nonunion, and nerve injury, on the basis of the use ora latency period and different rates and rhythms of distraction. In addition, the rates of all complications were determined and compared on the basis of the number of distraction cases performed per surgeon. The results of the study clearly show a wide variation in the surgical practice of craniofacial distraction osteogenesis. Although the cumulative complication rate was found to be 35.6 percent, there is a pronounced learning curve, with far fewer complications occurring among more experienced surgeons (p<0.001). The presence of inferior alveolar nerve injury as a result of mandibular distraction was much lower for respondents whose distraction regimens consisted of no more than 1 mm of distraction per day (19.5 percent versus 2.4 percent; p<0.001). No evidence was found to support the use of a latency period or to divide the daily distraction regimen into more than one session per day. Conclusions could not be drawn from this study regarding the length of the consolidation period. Overall, the surgeon-reported outcomes are comparable with those published for other craniofacial procedures, despite the higher incidence of complications. Although conclusions made on the basis of a subjective questionnaire need to be interpreted cautiously, this study has strength in the large numbers of cases reviewed. Because of the anonymity of responses, it has been assumed that surgeons who responded to the survey reported accurate numbers of complications and successful outcomes. Finally, additional clinical and animal studies that will be of benefit in advancing the field of craniofacial distraction osteogenesis are outlined.
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