When you picture the human nervous system, you may imagine a large number of nerves that's just as chaotic as the tangle of wires that sits behind your television. The complex web of the body's nerves may be dizzying, but there's a method to the madness. One of the nerves in facial anatomy is the mandibular nerve. Here's more about its function, potential problems that may affect it and how a dentist may go about administering a block for this nerve.
Nerves of the Mouth
The National Center for Biotechnology Information explains that the mandibular branch is part of a larger nerve called the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve consists of three total nerve branches, and the mandibular is the largest of the three. The mandibular division of the nerve is responsible for the feeling in your lower face, including the feeling in your teeth, most of your tongue, your chewing muscles and a few other facial muscles. This nerve allows you to speak, swallow, chew and breathe.
Problems Affecting the Mandibular Nerve
Two conditions that may affect this facial nerve are trigeminal neuralgia and temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the areas connected to the branches of the trigeminal nerve, according to the Mayo Clinic. The shooting, severe pain may be brought on by aging, trauma, a tumor, stroke or a condition that puts pressure on the protective sheath surrounding the trigeminal nerve.
TMD can cause pain in a person's temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jawbone to the skull, explains the Mayo Clinic. Doctors have identified several causes of TMJ discomfort, including teeth grinding or clenching, genetics, arthritis and jaw injuries. The American Academy of Pain Medicine notes that because the mandibular nerve provides sensation to the TMJ region, a nerve block may help relieve pain associated with TMD.
Mandibular Nerve Block for Dental Procedures
To prevent pain during procedures near the lower jaw, your dentist might administer a local anesthetic. The most common type of local anesthetic works to block a branch of the mandibular nerve called the inferior alveolar nerve, according to a review in Anesthesia Essays and Researches. First, the dentist will apply a topical anesthetic to the area to lessen the discomfort of the injection. Once they have injected the anesthetic itself, the dentist will check to see if it is working. If it's not, they might repeat the injection, notes Medscape. This technique is especially common during wisdom tooth removal, according to an article in Scientific Reports.
The South African Dental Journal reports that dental anesthetics fail to work 15 to 30 percent of the time. Of those failures, an inferior alveolar nerve block failure is the most common. This procedure might fail if the patient's mouth anatomy doesn't allow the medication to reach the nerve. In these cases, your dentist might need to target a different injection point or numb a larger area of your mouth.
After a dental procedure requiring a nerve block, you may experience some mild pain in your jaw muscles for a few days, according to Medscape. Your dentist can provide recommendations on how to manage the soreness. In the vast majority of cases, the nerve will not be damaged and your jaw will feel better again soon.