What Does the Mandibular Nerve Do?

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Receiving a local anesthetic injection is probably not an enjoyable part of undergoing dental work, but that shot is vital to numb the nerves around your teeth so you won't feel any pain. One major nerve in the lower part of the face and oral cavity is the mandibular nerve. Find out how this nerve affects your oral health and how it may come into play during certain dental procedures.

Location and Structure

The mandibular nerve arises from the trigeminal nerve, the cranial nerve responsible for sensation and motor functions in the face. It is located along the mandible, or the lower jawbone, and consists of nine branches, according to Medscape:

  • Recurrent meningeal nerve
  • Medial pterygoid nerve
  • Masseteric nerve
  • Deep temporal nerves
  • Lateral pterygoid nerve
  • Buccal nerve
  • Auriculotemporal nerve
  • Lingual nerve
  • Inferior alveolar nerve

Functions

StatPearls explains that this nerve is the only branch of the trigeminal nerve that supplies both motor and sensory information. One of its most important functions is controlling the movements of the muscles that allow you to chew. These include the masseter, the lateral and medial pterygoids and the temporalis muscle. This nerve also carries sensory fibers from the lower lip, lower teeth, gums, chin and jaw, which allow you to feel pain, touch and temperature changes in and around the mouth, reports Medscape. Additionally, this nerve transmits sensory information from the back portion of your tongue, though a different nerve is responsible for taste, according to StatPearls.

Mandibular Nerve Complications

  • Trigeminal Neuralgia

    When you suffer an injury, nerves convey that information to the brain as signals of discomfort or pain. Unfortunately, that means when branches of the trigeminal nerve, such as the mandibular, are pressed by other bodily structures or damaged, it can result in a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. The Mayo Clinic describes this condition as chronic pain in the facial area, including the teeth, gums, cheeks, forehead and lips. The pain attacks may range from short, mild episodes to constant burning sensations or periods of intermittent pain that last months.

    Pressure from an adjacent blood vessel, facial trauma, surgery, stroke, aging or multiple sclerosis can trigger the onset of trigeminal neuralgia. After diagnosis, physicians can prescribe medications to help block the pain signals to your brain, reports the Mayo Clinic. Alternatively, your medical professional may administer a block to the mandibular branch as part of your treatment plan, which has proven effective for relieving pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia, according to a study in the IOSR Journal of Pharmacy.
  • Dental Implants

    Surgery to place dental implants in the lower jaw runs a small but notable risk of damaging the mandibular branch of the trigeminal nerve, reports a study in the Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Research. Dental implants are artificial teeth that are fixed to titanium posts inserted into the jawbone. If the oral surgeon drills too close to the branch of the mandibular nerve called the inferior alveolar nerve, the patient can suffer long-term effects. Some of these effects include a burning or prickling sensation and persistent numbness. Rest assured that your oral surgeon will do everything they can to avoid putting pressure on or damaging the inferior alveolar nerve during surgery.
  • Wisdom Teeth Removal

    Wisdom teeth removal may result in injury to a branch of the mandibular nerve, specifically the inferior alveolar nerve or the lingual nerve, according to the Journal of IMAB. A patient may experience numbness, taste disturbance or heightened sensitivity after the procedure. However, most nerve injuries of this kind spontaneously recover on their own. In 96 percent of cases, symptoms of an inferior alveolar nerve injury disappear in four to eight weeks. Permanent effects are more likely in patients over 30 years old. If the patient doesn't recover normal nerve function, the typical treatment is surgery. Alternatively, a medical professional may recommend vitamin B complex, acupuncture, laser therapy or corticosteroids to treat the issue.

Facial nerves such as the mandibular not only allow you to chew and feel sensations, but they also warn you when you may require dental treatment by sending signals of pain or discomfort to the brain. However, if you suffer from ongoing facial pain or are concerned about the side effects of dental surgery, speak to your dentist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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