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All About the Mandibular Nerve

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Just like family trees, nerves branch out to create related nerves. Among the twelve cranial nerves originating in your brain, the trigeminal nerve is the parent of three nerve branches. And the mandibular is the largest of the three.

We’ll give you the 101 on the mandibular nerve: Its essential function to your well-being, treatable problems that can befall the nerve, and dental procedures that can affect your mandibular nerve.

What Does the Mandibular Nerve Do?

The mandibular nerve branches out into your lower jaw (aka the mandible). StatPearls research posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information site explains that the mandibular nerve is responsible for the feeling in your lower face. This includes 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. As we said, it’s essential.

Conditions Affecting the Mandibular Nerve

Two health issues that might impact this facial nerve are trigeminal neuralgia and temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

Trigeminal Neuralgia: This chronic pain condition affects areas connected to the branches of the trigeminal nerve. Brought on by aging, trauma or damage, a tumor, or a stroke, trigeminal neuralgia can also result from a condition that puts pressure on the protective sheath surrounding the trigeminal nerve (such as multiple sclerosis).

Whatever its cause, trigeminal neuralgia can produce severe shooting pain triggered by these everyday activities, among others, involving your face:

  • Washing and shaving
  • Talking and smiling
  • Eating and drinking
  • Brushing your teeth

Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD): If you have pain in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jawbone to the skull, that’s TMD. Affecting your jaw muscles and/or the mandibular nerve, TMDs can result from grinding or clenching your teeth, arthritis, jaw or head trauma, or other factors.

Symptoms of a TMD include these, among others:

  • Pain or soreness in facial areas, including headaches, earaches, and jaw aches
  • Jaw locking, popping, or clicking
  • Teeth sensitivity

If you experience trigeminal neuralgia or TMD pain, contact your medical or dental professional to get a correct diagnosis – and perhaps discover an underlying health issue. Depending on the condition and various factors, treatments range from behavioral therapy to medications to injections to surgeries.

Mandibular Nerve Block for Dental Procedures

To prevent pain during procedures near the lower jaw, your dental professional might administer local anesthesia. The most common local anesthetic type works to block a mandibular nerve branch called the inferior alveolar nerve.

A mandibular nerve block is typically performed before:

  • Filling cavities
  • Inserting crowns or implants
  • Removing wisdom tooth or other molars
  • Treating gum disease

Expect your dentist to first apply a topical anesthetic to the area to reduce the discomfort from the nerve block injection. The injection itself has about an 85 percent success rate, so be prepared for adjustments your dental professional must make to successfully numb your mouth. Such adjustments might include:

  • Increasing the anesthetic dosage
  • Targeting a different injection point
  • Numbing a larger area of your mouth

The payoff will be that once your mandible is completely numb, you’ll feel no pain during the dental procedure. Following the procedure, your dental professional will give you instructions on what to expect, do, and avoid until you have full feeling in your jaw.

As you can see, your mandibular nerve plays an important role in your overall health, allowing you to eat, drink, talk, and breathe with ease. And to undergo dental procedures without pain. That’s why it’s crucial you get a proper diagnosis to treat conditions affecting the nerve. We want you to live your best life and smile your best smile pain-free!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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