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Mandibular foramen (inferior alveolar foramen)

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Bony structures of the mandible.

The mandibular foramen, more recently renamed as the inferior alveolar foramen, is an opening at the internal aspect of the ramus of the mandible. The inferior alveolar nerve (branch of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve), as well as the inferior alveolar vessels, enter the foramen and supply the lower jaw as well as the teeth, some oral sensation and sensation over the chin.

As per the Terminologia Anatomica 2nd edition, the term inferior alveolar foramen is now the preferred term for the previously entered term "mandibular foramen"; this is due to the fact that there are other foramina in the mandible (e.g. mental foramen), therefore this landmark was renamed  according to the inferior alveolar neurovascular bundle which it gives passage to. 

in this article, we will discuss the anatomy and clinical relevance of the inferior alveolar foramen.

Contents
  1. Anatomy and relations
  2. Contents
    1. Inferior alveolar artery
    2. Inferior alveolar nerve
    3. Inferior alveolar vein
  3. Clinical points
    1. Inferior alveolar block
    2. Accessory mandibular foramina
  4. Sources
+ Show all

Anatomy and relations

Inferior alveolar foramen/mandibular foramen (left lateral view)

The inferior alveolar foramen has a prominent ridge in its front known as lingula of the mandible for the attachment of sphenomandibular ligament. The inferior alveolar mandible leads to the mandibular canal which traverses the trabecular bone and ends at the mental foramen. The mylohyoid groove for the mylohyoid nerve is seen to be present near the foramen, which runs in the anteroinferior direction.

Mylohyoid groove (lateral-left view)

Contents

A brief description of the contents of the foramen is given below.

Inferior alveolar artery

This artery is one of the five branches of the first section of the maxillary artery. The artery descends with the inferior alveolar nerve, and just before it enters the inferior alveolar foramen, it gives off a small branch that runs in the mylohyoid groove and supplies the mylohyoid muscle. Mylohyoid is the muscle that forms the floor of the oral cavity.

Inferior alveolar artery (lateral-left view)

The inferior alveolar artery then continues and runs within the substance of the mandibular bone. The artery gives off an incisor branch, which continues to run below the teeth as far as the midline, where the branch anastomoses with the artery of the opposite side. The mental branch of the artery leaves the mandible through the mental foramen and provides branches to the chin. It also formes anastomoses with the inferior labial arteries (branches of the facial artery), and the submental arteries (also branch from the facial artery).

Inferior alveolar nerve

The second structure that enters the inferior alveolar foramen is the inferior alveolar nerve, which is a sensory branch of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve (V3). The trigeminal nerve is a large nerve that arises from the pons, and divides into three major branches.

V1 is the ophthalmic division, and leaves the skull through the superior orbital fissure. It supplies sensation to the superior surface of the face. It also supplies sensation to the surface of the eye, and therefore provides the afferent limb of the corneal reflex.

V2 is the maxillary division, and leaves the skull through the foramen rotundum. V2 supplies sensation below the V1 division, to the middle section of the face. The inferior alveolar nerve is a sensory branch of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve. The nerve to mylohyoid arises just before the nerve enters into the foramen.

Inferior alveolar nerve (lateral-left view)

It runs within the substance of the mandible, and as it approaches the apex of the second molar, the nerve divides into a mental and incisive branch. The incisive branch supplies sensation to the lower teeth, and the mental branch continues in the inferior alveolar foramen, eventually leaving the mental foramen, on either side of the midline of the chin. It then supplies sensation to a small region of skin on the lower lip, and lower face.

Inferior alveolar vein

The vein forms by the merging of the dental, alveolar and mental branches in the mandible. Posteriorly it drains through the inferior alveolar foramen into the pterygoid plexus in the region of the infratemporal fossa, Anteriorly it drains through the mental foramen to join the facial vein.

Mandibular foramen (inferior alveolar foramen): want to learn more about it?

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