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Clinical Case 093: Jaw fractures made easy

This case was inspired by Dr Anand Swaminathan out of New York.  Anand recently uploaded a JAMIT video tutorial on the “tongue-blade test” for mandible fractures.

In case you have never heard of this or never actually tried it – check out the video here first.  A cool 1-minute demo and discussion.  From the twitter comments that followed – you might want to use the test with a pinch of salt in the very drunk, super tough or stoic patient.

Here is the case for today:

28 y.o. man presents to the ED at 0300 from a local nightclub.  He was negotiating his involuntary departure from the said facility with one of the security officers when he suffered a single punch to the left side of the jaw – the bouncer was a righty!

He then proceeded to the local kebab / souvlaki / burger / dim-sim / insert take away of your choice…  to get a consulatatory snack.  He tried to open his mouth to bite the kebab and found he could not bite with any force and had a heap of pain in the left jaw.  So he wandered onto ED for a check up…

Of course, it is Broome.  It is 3 AM and there is no radiology department – just you and your trusty US probe.

Here is what he looks like….

Prof_Klump_1

It is tough to examine his bony structures clinically as there is a healthy padding of adipose tissue blocking your clinical acumen.  There is a bit of swelling overlying the angle of the left mandible.

So – you try and open his mouth – he can only get about a centimetre between his incisors.  There is a bit of blood in there.  HE states that his lower tooth feels a bit wobbly when he probes it with his tongue.

He has no other injuries.

So – does he have a broken jaw?  Do we need to get him to a MaxFac surgeon for an ORIF?  Or can we just let him go?  Maybe bring him back in the morning for an Xray??

He doesn’t seem like a really reliable candidate for outpatient therapy!

So you dial up Dr Anand’s JAMIT video on the Tongue-blade test.

Unfortunately it is not negative….  so what does that mean?  Well the Tongue-blade test has a really good negative likelihood – so if it is normal, great, he probably has no fracture.  Here are a few links to posts on evidence for the utility of the TBT:  Bestbets, EMlitof Note, ALIEM

But a potent -LR means that it has a poor specificity.  So there are other reasons that it might be positive.

So – next move….. bedside Ultrasound of course.

Mandibles are superficial bones, easily accessible.  So we can scan them – but what does the evidence say about our diagnostic accuracy with the probe?

Well – there is not a lot of high quality stuff, but I found this systematic review out of Nigeria. Int J Oral Maxillofac Surg., 2011.

Basically there is a wide range of accuracy reported – but as is often the case with US – it is more specific than sensitive – that is to say – better for ruling in a fracture than ruling out.

So this is interesting.  If you take out “tongue-blade test” with high sensitivity and add in an US with high specificity – I think you might have a winning combination.  So I think I am going to start using this as a “2 punch” diagnostic strategy in the wee hours of the night when I need to make a call on the risk.  Send home, or admit for transfer.

Let me know what you think… or let Anand know on Twitter @EMSwami

Casey

Comments

  1. I learnt the tongue depressor test in Darwin in the ED there. I can recall someone with a fractured jaw getting a bit cranky when I twisted the tongue depressor. He was drunk and did have a fracture. I’ve tried a few times since and no one had ever come back complaining of a missed fracture. You just have to be careful in your enthusiasm to twist not to leave a few splinters in the mouth, and make sure your fingers are not in the way when the teeth come down.

  2. wow that’s grt test.didn’t knew about this.

  3. Muhammad Umer Shehzad says:

    Thanks for sharing this.
    Just to mention that I perform another “version” of this test. That is, by asking the patient to “crack” the wooden spatula between their teeth using their own jaws. I do it routinely on patients, and obviously it should be done on both sides.
    The spatula needs to be placed on its edge(upright) between the teeth.
    Regards

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