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The viscerocranium (or splanchnocranium) is one of the two areas that make up the skull. It is situated anteriorly to the neurocranium which partly encapsulates it posteriorly, both from above and below.

The viscerocranium comprises several bones that form the skeleton of the face as well as parts of the jaw (facial skeleton).

  1. Introduction to the viscerocranium
  2. The nasal bones
  3. The maxillae
  4. The zygomatic bones
  5. The lacrimal bones
  6. The vomer
  7. The sphenoid bone
  8. The palatine bones
  9. The mandible
  10. Summary
  11. Sources
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Introduction to the viscerocranium

The nasal bones

Nasal bones - ventral view
Nasal bones (ventral view)

The nasal bones are a pair of bones that sit at the roof of the face and create the initial contour of the nose known as the bridge of the nose. They meet in the midline with one another and additionally articulate with the frontal bone superiorly via the frontonasal suture and the maxilla laterally via the nasomaxillary sutures.

The maxillae

Maxillae (ventral view)

The maxilla makes up the largest portion of the face and has the most muscle tissue attached to it, which is responsible for facial expressions. As with the nasal bones, it also connects to all the bones within the bony orbit (except the frontal bone).

The zygomatic bones

Zygomatic bone (left lateral view)

The zygomatic bone is the bridge between the neurocranium and the viscerocranium. It forms the lateral prominences of the face (“cheekbones”) where the zygomatic and temporal portions of the zygomatic arch meet each other. It also articulates with the maxilla via the zygomaticomaxillary suture and the frontal bone via the frontozygomatic suture. Inside the bony orbit it contacts the frontal bone, the sphenoid bone and the maxilla.

The lacrimal bones

Lacrimal bone (CT scan)

The lacrimal bone can be found on the medial wall of the bony orbit. It houses the lacrimal sac and supports the contents of the eye socket. Anteriorly it is surrounded by the maxilla, superiorly by the frontal bone and posteriorly by the ethmoid bone.

The vomer

Vomer (midsaggital section of skull)

The vomer is part of the nasal septum which follows the midline of the viscerocranium and creates the division between the two symmetrical sides of the nasal cavity. To be exact, the vomer forms the posterior inferior aspect of the septum in between the perpendicular plate of the ethmoid bone anterosuperiorly and the palatine bone posteroinferiorly.

The sphenoid bone

Sphenoid bone (ventral view)

The greater and lesser wings of the sphenoid bone make up the posterior wall of the bony orbit. They contain all three orifices including the optic canal and the superior and inferior orbital fissures. The sphenoid bone is surrounded by and in contact with all of the bones that make up the bony orbit.

The palatine bones

Palatine bone (medial view)

The palatine bone is a paired, L-shaped bone that is found interposed between the maxilla and sphenoid bones. It is primarily defined by its horizontal and perpendicular plates. The horizontal plate forms the posterior portion of the hard palate of the oral cavity and is directly inferior to the nasal cavity. The perpendicular plate contributes to the lateral wall of the nasal cavity where it borders the pterygoid process of sphenoid bone. 

The palatine bone also contributes to a small portion of the orbital floor, via the orbital process found at the superior end of the perpendicular plate. 

The mandible

Mandible (left lateral view)

The mandible forms the chin and the jaw line contours of the face and allows a person to speak, chew and open their mouth. To be precise, the mandible is not part of the skull but a separate bone that articulates with it through the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Nevertheless it should be mentioned when discussing facial bones.

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