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Mandibular nerve (CN V3)

Learning objectives

On completing this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the origin of the mandibular nerve and its associated nuclei.
  2. Understand the pathway and course of the mandibular nerve.
  3. Identify the branches of the mandibular nerve and their supply areas/target organs.

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The trigeminal nerve (CN V), which is a large and complex nerve which divides into three main branches at the anterior aspect of the trigeminal ganglion: the ophthalmic nerve, the maxillary nerve, and the mandibular nerve.

The mandibular nerve, accompanied by the motor root of the trigeminal nerve, leaves the skull through the foramen ovale, after which both unite within the infratemporal fossa. The mandibular nerve is therefore the only division of the trigeminal nerve to convey both afferent (sensory) and efferent (motor) nerve fibers. It supplies:

  • General somatic afferent (GSA, sensory) innervation to the skin over the mandible, cheek and temporal region, mucosa of the oral cavity and tongue, the mandibular teeth, parts of the external ear, as well as the temporomandibular joint.
  • Special visceral efferent (SVE) innervation is provided to eight muscles: muscles of mastication (4), mylohyoid, anterior belly of digastric, tensor veli palatini, and tensor tympani muscles.
  • Other fiber types (special visceral afferent (SVA), general visceral efferent (GVE)) are also carried by the mandibular nerve via anastomoses with branches of other cranial nerves. 

Find out more about the pathway, branches and functions of the mandibular nerve in the video below. 

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Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the pathway and branches of the mandibular nerve in the gallery below.


Key points about the mandibular nerve
Structure and features  Fibers: General somatic afferent (GSA, sensory), special visceral efferent (SVE, branchiomotor) (special visceral afferent/taste (SVA), general visceral efferent/parasympathetic (GVE) fibers also carried to/from other cranial nerves)
: Trigeminal ganglion
Exits skull
: Foramen ovale
Associated nuclei
: Sensory nuclei (mesencephalic, principal sensory, spinal nuclei of trigeminal nerve) and motor nucleus of trigeminal nerve
Associated ganglia
: Trigeminal ganglion, otic ganglion, submandibular/sublingual ganglion
Branches  Meningeal branch of mandibular nerve
Nerve to medial pterygoid
Anterior division
: Masseteric nerve, anterior and posterior deep temporal nerves, nerve to lateral pterygoid, buccal nerve
Posterior division
: Auriculotemporal nerve, lingual nerve, inferior alveolar nerve
Function General somatic afferent: Skin and mucosa of the lower face, oral cavity, ear and mandibular teeth
General somatic efferent
: Muscles of mastication, mylohyoid muscle, anterior belly of digastric, tensor veli palatini muscle, tensor tympani muscle
(Special visceral afferent: Taste from anterior ⅔ of tongue
General visceral efferent
: Secretomotor to submandibular/sublingual glands)

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