BACKGROUND: The application of distraction osteogenesis is an effective treatment for mandibular deficiencies. A priori, a horizontal vector of distraction was hypothesized to produce horizontal movement of the mandible and a vertical vector of distraction to produce primarily downward vertical elongation of the ramus. This study was designed to test this hypothesis. METHODS: A retrospective clinical and radiographic review was conducted of all patients who underwent bilateral, uniplanar distraction with an external device at the New York University Medical Center between October of 1990 and February of 2004 (n = 185). A subset of 15 patients was identified who satisfied inclusion criteria and had adequate predistraction and postdistraction lateral cephalograms. Cephalometric tracings were made and multiple landmarks were assessed before and after distraction. RESULTS: A strong correlation was noted between the vector of distraction and rotation of the symphyseal plane, movement of the mandibular symphysis, and change in interocclusal angle. A horizontal vector of distraction resulted in minimal counterclockwise rotation of the symphyseal plane, greater downward vertical translation of the mandibular symphysis, and minimal closure of an anterior open bite. In contrast, a vertical vector resulted in greater counterclockwise rotation of the symphyseal plane, greater horizontal projection of the mandibular symphysis, and greater closure of an anterior open bite. Mathematical formulas were derived to correlate the distraction vector and mandibular movements. CONCLUSIONS: Successful distraction is dependent on accurate prediction of outcomes. This study demonstrates that the vector of distraction predictably affects the mandibular response during bilateral distraction osteogenesis but contradicts the a priori hypothesis.
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