Os odontoideum is an uncommon craniovertebral junction (CVJ) abnormality that exists as a separate ossicle apart from a hypoplastic dens. It usually moves with the clivus or the anterior arch of C-1 (dystopic) or rarely with the dens (orthotopic). Its genesis and natural history have been debated, and its proper treatment remains uncertain.
Two hundred and sixty patients, with symptomatic os odontoideum, were evaluated by the author over a 20-year period; the author performed surgery in 134 of these patients. In a prospective study the author evaluated the early childhood history of trauma, the dynamic studies of motion, and the effects of traction by using pleuridirectional tomography, computerized tomography (CT), CT myelography and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Operative findings were documented.
Early childhood trauma to the CVJ was recorded in 74 patients, in 30 of whom normal odontoid processes were documented at initial examination prior to the patient reaching age 4 years.
Acute neurological deterioration following trauma occurred in 63 of 134 patients. Symptoms were insidious in 71 of 134 patients. In six patients, who presented with acute neurological deterioration after trauma and in whom an abnormal spinal cord signal in the cervicomedullary junction was demonstrated on MR imaging, normal CVJ motion dynamics were shown. Motion dynamics varied and were unique to each patient. Irreducible ventral CVJ disease causing cervicomedullary compromise occurred in 28 patients in whom a transpharyngeal ventral decompressive procedure was necessitated. During the transoral operation, the transverse portion of the cruciate ligament was found to be located anterior to the axis body. All patients required dorsal CVJ arthrodesis, which, in 46, was limited to the C1-2 segment. Instability at the C1-2 joints was always multidirectional, as demonstrated on preoperative neuroimaging studies as well as at operation.
Sixteen patients presented after completed primary C1-2 dorsal fusion and with worsening deficits. They improved when the range of the fusion was extended to the occiput or if the ventrally located lesion was excised.
Os odontoideum is associated with early childhood trauma and is an acquired phenomenon. The presence of abnormal motion dynamics necessitates surgical intervention as do associated neurological deficits. Asymptomatic patients in whom os odontoideum is incidentally discovered and in whom no abnormal motion dynamics are demonstrated should be followed closely.