You've got a lot of nerve — actually, everyone does. Every person has 12 cranial nerve pairs that extend from the brain to other parts of the body, according to TeachMeAnatomy. Your fifth cranial nerve, also known as the trigeminal nerve, is made up of three branches that serve different parts of the face, as StatPearls points out: the ophthalmic, maxillary and mandibular nerves. The mandibular nerve also divides into multiple branches, including the inferior alveolar nerve, the lingual nerve and the buccal nerve. You have this last nerve to thank every time you feel a family member pinch your cheeks.
Function and Location of the Buccal Nerve
"Buccal" actually comes from the Latin word for "cheek," so it may be unsurprising that this nerve is responsible for providing sensation to your cheeks, as StatPearls explains. The nerve also gives sensation to the buccal gingiva, aka the side of the gums that is nearest to the cheek, and to the buccal sulcus, which is the space between the inside of your cheek and the bone that holds your teeth in place.
Since it supplies sensation to the cheeks and the nearby areas in the mouth, it makes sense that the buccal nerve is located in the cheek area. Specifically, the nerve is located on the surface of the buccinator muscle in the cheek, as explained in the textbook Local Anesthesia for the Dental Hygienist. From there, the nerve travels deeper in the cheek and reaches the masseter muscle, which is one of the muscles that helps you chew. Note that while the nerve is located on the buccinator, it doesn't actually control that muscle — that's the job of the facial nerve.
Importance of the Buccal Nerve During Dental Treatment
During dental treatment that calls for anesthesia, it's important that the dentist administers the anesthetic to the right nerves. For example, if a dental procedure will take place in the area where the inferior alveolar nerve provides sensation, a dentist will most likely use an inferior alveolar nerve block to numb the area before getting started.
In cases where a dental procedure will affect the cheek area inside the mouth, a dentist will likely give the patient a buccal nerve block through an injection. A study in the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry notes that some of the procedures that may call for numbing the buccal nerve include removing cavities from below the gumline, reducing buccal soft tissue pain, infection of the buccal soft tissue on the lower arch, preparing a tooth beneath the gumline or placing a dam clamp in the mouth, which dentists use to isolate the tooth they're working on. Because the nerve provides sensation to the tissues around the lower third molars, it may also be anesthetized during molar extraction, especially if an inferior alveolar nerve block doesn't fully numb the area.
What to Expect From Anesthesia
If you need a dental treatment that calls for anesthesia, it's normal to be a bit nervous about it — but rest assured that anesthesia used during dental work is very safe. Local anesthesia, which is the technique of injecting medication that numbs a nerve, is the least likely to cause any side effects, explains the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Any side effects that do occur from a local anesthetic tend to be mild.
That said, it's a good idea to know what to expect after the dentist gives an anesthetic and as it wears off. When a dentist gives you a local anesthetic or nerve block, you'll stay awake, but you won't feel discomfort or pain in the area where the dentist is working. You might notice some pressure in the area as they work.
As the anesthetic wears off, it's normal to feel some tingling, as the U.K.'s National Health Service points out. That tingling might feel strange, but it's a good thing: It's a sign that you're regaining sensation in the numbed nerve.
If your dentist recommends numbing a nerve during dental treatment, such as repairing a cavity or removing a wisdom tooth, keep in mind that they are going to do so with your safety in mind and best interests at heart. If you have any concerns about the anesthesia, your dentist will be happy to address them.