The mouth has many visible areas we hear about all the time in oral health—the teeth, the tongue, the gums. But what about the key parts of our mouth that don’t get discussed? The inferior alveolar nerve (IAN), connected to your molars and premolars, plays an important role in your oral health. Here we’ll look at what it is and the symptoms of potential damage.
Inferior Alveolar Nerve (IAN): Causes and Symptoms of Damage
According to StatPearls, the inferior alveolar nerve is responsible for “sensory innervation to the cheek, lips, chin, teeth, and gingivae.” Visually, it’s a nerve that runs along your bottom jaw, and it’s the nerve that your oral professional typically injects with local anesthetic when preparing your tooth for receiving a filling on a tooth on your lower jaw. If you’re getting a filling on a tooth on your upper jaw, your oral professional will inject an anesthetic into your superior alveolar nerve. In dental terminology, the process of injecting an anesthetic into these areas is called a nerve block.
Further, when you have pain in your mouth from a cavity, cracked tooth, abscess, or oral ulcer in your lower jaw, that region will send pain signals to the brain via the IAN. This nerve really does play a role in the whole ecosystem of your oral health!
Rarely, your IAN could incur damage due to procedures like wisdom tooth extraction. When this happens, the wisdom tooth's roots can wrap around or push against the IAN, which can result in nerve damage. Impacted wisdom teeth that develop cysts can also damage the surrounding nerves. There's also a greater risk of IAN damage when a person has their wisdom teeth removed later in life, which is why oral care providers recommend that people get their wisdom teeth extracted during their late teenage years or early 20's.
The University of Sheffield School of Clinical Dentistry notes that facial deformity surgery and facial fractures are two other instances, though not as common as wisdom tooth removal, that can damage the inferior alveolar nerve. Implant placement can also cause damage.
There is a range of common inferior alveolar nerve damage symptoms, regardless of how the IAN is damaged. A damaged IAN will reveal itself through pain or abnormal sensations in the chin, lower teeth, lower jaw, and lower lips. Nerve damage may result in speech difficulties and/or affect chewing. If you experience any of these symptoms or have inferior alveolar nerve pain, reach out to your oral care provider—especially if they occur after recent surgery.
When it comes to maintaining your IAN's health, it comes down to consistent oral care habits. After all, your mouth deserves the same type of care you provide to the rest of your body. A good foundation for a lasting smile starts with brushing your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between your teeth with an interdental device like floss. Also, remember to schedule regular dental checkups so that your dentist can monitor your oral health.
Without the proper functioning of your inferior alveolar nerve, you wouldn’t be able to perform a lot of basic oral functions like chewing and swallowing. Now you know a little more about the role your inferior alveolar nerve plays and how it establishes a connection from your jaw to your brain and the rest of your body.
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.