Maxillary distraction osteogenesis versus orthognathic surgery for cleft patients


Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common birth defects and can cause difficulties with feeding, speech and hearing, as well as psychosocial problems. Treatment of clefts is lengthy, typically taking from birth to adulthood to complete. Upper jaw growth in cleft patients is highly variable, and in a relatively high percentage, it does not develop completely. A type of surgery called orthognathic surgery, which involves surgical cutting of bone to realign the upper jaw (osteotomy), is usually performed in this situation. An alternative intervention is known as distraction osteogenesis, which achieves bone lengthening by gradual mechanical distraction (cutting of bone and moving the ends apart incrementally to allow new bone to form in the gap).

Review question

This review, produced through Cochrane Oral Health, examines the benefits and risks of distraction osteogenesis for advancing the upper jaw compared to conventional orthognathic surgery in adolescents and adults.

Study characteristics

The evidence on which this review is based is up to date as of 16 February 2016. We found six relevant articles to include in this review. All are related to one single study conducted in Hong Kong. The study involved 47 participants aged 13 to 45 years of age. It investigated the effects of the two surgical procedures on alteration of face morphology, stability of upper jaw after surgery, speech and velopharyngeal function (ability to close the gap between the soft palate and nasal cavity to produce sound), psychological status of the participants and clinical side effects.

Key results

Both procedures were effective in producing better facial structure in cleft patients. Upper jaw was more stable in the distraction osteogenesis group than the conventional osteotomy group five years after surgery. There was no difference in speech and velopharyngeal function between the procedures. Social self esteem in the maxillary distraction group initially seemed to be lower than in the conventional surgery group, but this improved over time and the distraction group had higher satisfaction with life two years after surgery. Side effects included deterioration of the fit between the teeth when the mouth is closed and infection of muscous membranes of the nose and mouth, but the frequency of these problems was similar between groups. There was no severe harm to any participant.

Quality of the evidence

The quality of the evidence was judged to be very low. The one study was small and there were concerns about aspects of its design and reporting; therefore we have found no reliable evidence as to which procedure should be regarded superior. High quality clinical trials, which involve lots of people, and different face types, are required to guide decision making.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review found only one small randomised controlled trial concerning the effectiveness of distraction osteogenesis compared to conventional orthognathic surgery. The available evidence is of very low quality, which indicates that further research is likely to change the estimate of the effect. Based on measured outcomes, distraction osteogenesis may produce more satisfactory results; however, further prospective research comprising assessment of a larger sample size with participants with different facial characteristics is required to confirm possible true differences between interventions.

Read the full abstract...

Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common birth defects and can cause difficulties with feeding, speech and hearing, as well as psychosocial problems. Treatment of orofacial clefts is prolonged; it typically commences after birth and lasts until the child reaches adulthood or even into adulthood. Residual deformities, functional disturbances, or both, are frequently seen in adults with a repaired cleft. Conventional orthognathic surgery, such as Le Fort I osteotomy, is often performed for the correction of maxillary hypoplasia. An alternative intervention is distraction osteogenesis, which achieves bone lengthening by gradual mechanical distraction.


To provide evidence regarding the effects and long-term results of maxillary distraction osteogenesis compared to orthognathic surgery for the treatment of hypoplastic maxilla in people with cleft lip and palate.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following electronic databases: Cochrane Oral Health's Trials Register (to 16 February 2016), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (the Cochrane Library, 2016, Issue 1), MEDLINE Ovid (1946 to 16 February 2016), Embase Ovid (1980 to 16 February 2016), LILACS BIREME (1982 to 16 February 2016), the US National Institutes of Health Ongoing Trials Register ( (to 16 February 2016), and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (to 16 February 2016). There were no restrictions regarding language or date of publication in the electronic searches. We performed handsearching of six speciality journals and we checked the reference lists of all trials identified for further studies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing maxillary distraction osteogenesis to conventional Le Fort I osteotomy for the correction of cleft lip and palate maxillary hypoplasia in non-syndromic cleft patients aged 15 years or older.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors assessed studies for eligibility. Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias in the included studies. We contacted trial authors for clarification or missing information whenever possible. All standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane were used.

Main results: 

We found six publications involving a total of 47 participants requiring maxillary advancement of 4 mm to 10 mm. All of them related to a single trial performed between 2002 and 2008 at the University of Hong Kong, but not all of the publications reported outcomes from all 47 participants. The study compared maxillary distraction osteogenesis with orthognathic surgery, and included participants from 13 to 45 years of age.

Results and conclusions should be interpreted with caution given the fact that this was a single trial at high risk of bias, with a small sample size.

The main outcomes assessed were hard and soft tissue changes, skeletal relapse, effects on speech and velopharyngeal function, psychological status, and clinical morbidities.

Both interventions produced notable hard and soft tissue improvements. Nevertheless, the distraction group demonstrated a greater maxillary advancement, evaluated as the advancement of Subspinale A-point: a mean difference of 4.40 mm (95% CI 0.24 to 8.56) was recorded two years postoperatively.

Horizontal relapse of the maxilla was significantly less in the distraction osteogenesis group five years after surgery. A total forward movement of A-point of 2.27 mm was noted for the distraction group, whereas a backward movement of 2.53 mm was recorded for the osteotomy group (mean difference 4.8 mm, 95% CI 0.41 to 9.19).

No statistically significant differences could be detected between the groups in speech outcomes, when evaluated through resonance (hypernasality) at 17 months postoperatively (RR 0.11, 95% CI 0.01 to 1.85) and nasal emissions at 17 months postoperatively (RR 3.00, 95% CI 0.14 to 66.53), or in velopharyngeal function at the same time point (RR 1.28, 95% CI 0.65 to 2.52).

Maxillary distraction initially lowered social self-esteem at least until the distractors were removed, at three months postoperatively, compared to the osteotomy group, but this improved over time and the distraction group had higher satisfaction with life in the long term (two years after surgery) (MD 2.95, 95% CI 014 to 5.76).

Adverse effects, in terms of clinical morbidities, included mainly occlusal relapse and mucosal infection, with the frequency being similar between groups (3/15 participants in the distraction osteogenesis group and 3/14 participants in the osteotomy group). There was no severe harm to any participant.