The Pterygoid Plate and Your Face

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What are facial bones? Are they considered part of the skull? While there are 20 bones that make up the skull, 14 of them are classified as facial bones. An important pair of these bones create the pterygoid plate, a horseshoe-shaped bone that arises from the sphenoid bone, according to

So how important is an intact pterygoid to your oral health? What conditions involving this bone affect your mouth and skull?

Appearance and Function

The pterygoid plate is thin, broad and wing-like, and it helps the form and function of the jaw, maxillary teeth and sinuses. These bones are divided into two sections, lateral and medial, and each aspect of this bone has an important role. Although these bones are not adjacent to the brain, they lie near the cranial bones and are considered part of the skull. Together they form the inferior margin of the maxilla (also known as the upper jaw) and the maxillary sinuses. The facial muscles that attach to the pterygoid help to move the lower jaw or mandible.

Research has identified a relationship with fractures and other conditions that can affect the upper and lower jaw. The studies reflect that an erosion or change in these protective bones can affect one or both sides of the face.


When this facial bone fractures, it's referred to as a broken jaw. Most people identify a broken jaw with the mandible (aka the lower jaw), but it can also involve the maxilla. Identifying the fracture and the facial bones involved is important to receiving the proper medical treatment. It has been previously thought that blunt trauma to the mid face is the leading cause of fractures to the pterygoid commonly known as Le Fort fractures. However, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined how fractures and trauma to the facial bones associated with the maxilla, including the pterygoid, may have resulted from a broken mandible. Most often this was found when the injury involved a lateral or side blow to the lower jaw, but was not recognized or reported. The study concludes that this fracture could initially be overlooked and recommends further investigation when a lateral pterygoid fracture is seen on a CT scan that extends to the skull base or cervical spine.

Temporomandibular Disorder

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a term that describes musculoskeletal disorders affecting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The lateral pterygoid plate plays an important role in the action of this joint since it serves as a point for muscles that move the jaw laterally. A study reported by the Imaging Science of Dentistry examined the size of the lateral plates with cone beam commuted tomography (CBCT) in subjects (people) who suffered from TMD. The results showed the plates to be significantly smaller on the side of disorder and although more research is indicated, the results could help to understand the causes and treatment methods for TMD.

Facial bones including the pterygoid plate provide the framework for a healthy mouth. Protecting these bones ensures that your teeth and jaw will function properly and helps contribute to overall health. Regular dental check-ups, brushing with an advanced multi-action bristle design toothbrush, like the Colgate 360° Advanced 4 Zone toothbrush, and preventing injuries by taking the proper safety precautions will go a long way in protecting your smile!