You probably don't consciously think about how you're able to chew food without constantly biting the insides of your cheeks, but when you eat, there's a muscle hard at work to keep your cheeks a comfortable distance away from your teeth. This muscle is called the buccinator muscle.
Open your mouth and place your hand on the hollow in your cheek between your upper and lower jaw. You're touching the area where your buccinator muscle is located. According to the textbook Anatomy and Physiology, the buccinator forms the majority of the walls of the cheeks and sits between the mucous membrane lining and the outer skin. A number of glands are located between the buccinator and the mucous membrane, and their ducts open in the very back of the mouth across from the molars.
What Does the Buccinator Do?
The buccinator muscle has several specialized functions and is just one of many facial muscles that you use to chew and form facial expressions. StatPearls explains that the buccinator plays an important role in chewing because it prevents you from biting your cheek as you eat. While you're chewing, it works with the masseter, temporalis, medial pterygoid and lateral pterygoid muscles, which move your jaw.
Another important function of the buccinator is controlling air flow through the mouth. As another textbook entitled Anatomy & Physiology notes, it's thanks to the buccinator that you can suck air in, blow it out and whistle. You'd use this muscle when playing the trumpet, for example.
Your facial muscles enable you to create the wide range of expressions you use for nonverbal communication, and the buccinator is no exception. Another one of its functions is helping you form your smile, reports Anatomy and Physiology. When creating facial expressions like a smile, the buccinator doesn't work alone. According to StatPearls, other muscles of expression that are closely associated with the buccinator include the orbicularis oris and the zygomaticus major and minor.
Problems With the Buccinator
Myofascial Pain SyndromeMerck Manuals notes that myofascial pain syndrome is a common disorder of the region around the jaw joint. Individuals with this condition have trigger points in their muscles, which are sensitive areas that cause pain and discomfort. Trigger points located in the buccinator might be activated by playing wind instruments frequently or wearing poorly fitting dental appliances, according to the textbook Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. Painkillers, bite splits and muscle relaxation are some potential treatment options, explains Merck Manuals.
Hemifacial SpasmThe buccinator is also involved in a less common condition: hemifacial spasm. StatPearls describes hemifacial spasm as a neuromuscular movement disorder characterized by involuntary twitching of the facial muscles on one side of the face. The primary cause is compression of the facial nerve due to anomalies in the arteries, but the spasm can also be a symptom of a brain lesion or trauma to the face. To treat this condition, a doctor may recommend injections of botulinum toxin, oral medications or surgery.
If you experience discomfort or pain in your cheeks or other areas of your face, consult your doctor or dentist, who will help you determine the cause and the best next steps for treatment.
Without buccinator muscles, we'd be biting our cheeks while we chew and wouldn't be able to blow or suck air. What's more, you wouldn't be able to play certain instruments without these handy muscles on each side of your face. So, the next time you chew or whistle, remember your buccinator muscle and all that it does for you.