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Recommended video: Anterior and lateral views of the skull [16:04]
Structures seen on the anterior and lateral views of the skull.

The maxilla, also known as the upper jaw, is a vital viscerocranium structure of the skull. It is involved in the formation of the orbit, nose and palate, holds the upper teeth and plays an important role for mastication and communication.

This bone consists of five major parts, one being the body and four being projections named processes (frontal, zygomatic, palatine, alveolar). Bordered by several other bones of the viscerocranium, the maxilla on one side pairs with the corresponding bone on the opposite side via the intermaxillary suture.

This article will describe every nook, crack, and cranny of the maxilla, together with its development and clinical knowledge about periodontal disease and various fractures.

Key facts about the maxilla
Parts Body
Alveolar process
Frontal process
Zygomatic process
Palatine process
Articulations Superiorly: frontal bone
Posteriorly: sphenoid, palatine, lacrimal, ethmoid bones
Medially: nasal bone, vomer
Inferior: nasal concha
Laterally: zygomatic bone
Ossification Intramembranous ossification
  1. Anatomy
  2. Articulations
  3. Osseous development
  4. Clinical notes
  5. Sources
+ Show all


The maxilla consists of the body and its four projections:

  • frontal process
  • zygomatic process
  • palatine process
  • alveolar process

The body of the maxilla is the largest part of the bone and shaped like a pyramid. It contributes to the anterior margin and floor of the bony orbit, the anterior wall of the nasal cavity and the inferior part of the infratemporal fossa. It contains the maxillary sinuses which extend from the orbital ridge to the alveolar process and drain to the middle meatus of the nose. The infraorbital foramen is located underneath the orbital ridge and serves as a pathway for the infraorbital nerve and vessels.

The alveolar process is an inferior extension of the maxilla with a rather porous structure. It forms the maxillary dental arch containing eight cavities where the upper teeth are held.

The frontal process has a vertical ridge which constitutes the medial border of the orbit (anterior lacrimal crest). Posteriorly it forms the lacrimal groove together with the lacrimal bone. Superomedially it is in close contact with the anterior ethmoidal sinuses.

The zygomatic process of the maxilla grows laterally and meets the zygomatic bone.

Lastly, the palatine process is a horizontal extension on the medial side of the bone constituting the roof of the mouth and the floor of the nasal cavity. Together with the palatine bone it forms the hard palate. Anteriorly it features a small process, the anterior nasal spine. The incisive foramen can be found on the median line just posteriorly to the incisor teeth where the nasopalatine nerve and greater palatine vessels pass through.

The bones of the skull frequently appear on exam questions - so make sure you're prepared! Test yourself with our skull bones quizzes and diagrams, or use them to learn the topic from scratch. 

Learn the anatomy and function of the skull bones here:


The maxilla articulates with numerous bones: superiorly with the frontal bone, posteriorly with the sphenoid bone, palatine and lacrimal bones and ethmoid bone, medially with the nasal bone, vomer, inferior nasal concha and laterally with the zygomatic bone.

Note that the maxilla may look like a single bone but is truly paired forming a delicate suture in the middle line known as the median palatine (or intermaxillary) suture. Furthermore the bone comes in contact with the septal and nasal cartilages.

Osseous development

All five parts of the maxilla undergo intramembranous ossification through two ossification centers. In the 7th week of fetal life one differentiates between the maxilla and premaxilla (or incisive bone).

In the third month both parts fuse around the area of the alveolar process after which the premaxilla becomes the anterior part of the maxilla. In newborns the maxilla is much longer horizontally than vertically, compared to adults. Furthermore their teeth sockets extend almost far up until the orbital ridge.

As all paranasal sinuses the maxillary sinuses are relatively small and become larger during the development of the maxilla and the other skull bones. In old age the alveolar process is increasingly absorbed and the teeth fall out. Since the maxilla becomes smaller it seems to come 'forward' in elderly people.

Maxilla: want to learn more about it?

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