14: Dento-osseous Structures, Blood Vessels, and Nerves

14 Dento-osseous Structures, Blood Vessels, and Nerves

The development of the dentitions has been discussed and a brief review of the development of the neurocranium and splanchnocranium has been presented in Chapter 2. Therefore, in this chapter the focus is on the dentoalveolar and dento-osseous structures of the permanent dentition. The forms of the roots of the teeth and their sizes and angulations govern the shape of the alveoli in the jawbones, and this in turn shapes the contour of the dento-osseous portions facially.

The osseous structures that support the teeth are the maxilla and the mandible. The maxilla, or upper jaw, consists of two bones: a right maxilla and a left maxilla sutured together at the median line. Both maxillae in turn are joined to other bones of the head (Figure 14-1). The mandible, or lower jaw, has no osseous union with the skull and is a movable (ginglymoarthrodial) joint.

The Maxillae

The maxillae make up a large part of the bony framework of the facial portion of the skull. They form the major portion of the roof of the mouth, or hard palate, and assist in the formation of the floor of the orbit and the sides and base of the nasal cavity. They support the 16 permanent maxillary teeth.

Each maxilla is an irregular bone, somewhat cuboidal in shape, which consists of a body and four processes: the zygomatic, frontal, palatine, and alveolar processes. The maxilla is hollow and contains the maxillary sinus air space, also called the antrum of Highmore. From the dental viewpoint, in addition to its general shape and the processes mentioned, several landmarks on this bone are among the most important, including the incisive fossa, canine fossa, canine eminence, infraorbital foramen, posterior alveolar foramina, maxillary tuberosity, pterygopalatine fossa, and incisive canal.

The body of the maxilla has the following four surfaces: anterior or facial, infratemporal, orbital, and nasal.


The posterior or infratemporal surface (Figures 14-3 and 14-4) is bounded above by the posterior edge of the orbital surface. Inferiorly and anteriorly, it is separated from the anterior surface by the zygomatic process and the zygomatic ridge, which runs from the inferior border of the zygomatic process to the alveolus of the maxillary first molar. This surface is more or less convex and is pierced in a downward direction by two or more posterior alveolar foramina. These two canals are on a level with the lower border of the zygomatic process and are somewhat distal to the roots of the third molar.

The inferior portion of this surface is more prominent where it overhangs the root of the third molar and is called the maxillary tuberosity. Medially, this tuberosity is limited by a sharp, irregular margin that articulates with the pyramidal process of the palatine bone and, in some cases, the lateral pterygoid plate of the sphenoid bone. The maxillary tuberosity is the origin for some fibers of the medial pterygoid muscle.

A portion of the infratemporal surface superior to the maxillary tuberosity is the anterior boundary to the pterygomaxillary fissure.


The nasal surface (Figures 14-5 and 14-6) is directed medially toward the nasal cavity. It is bordered below by the superior surface of the palatine process. Anteriorly, it is limited by the sharp edge of the nasal notch. Above and anteriorly, it is continuous with the medial surface of the frontal process. Behind this, it is deeply channeled by the lacrimal groove, which is converted into a canal by articulation with the lacrimal and inferior turbinate bones.

Behind this groove the upper edge of the nasal surface corresponds to the medial margin of the orbital surface, and the maxilla articulates in this region with the lacrimal bone, a thin portion of the ethmoid bone, and the orbital process of the palatine bone.

The posterior border of the maxilla, which articulates with the palatine bone, is traversed obliquely from above downward and slightly medially by a groove, which, by articulation with the palate bone, is converted into the greater palatine canal. Toward the posterior and upper part of this nasal surface, a large, irregular opening into the maxillary sinus (antrum of Highmore) may be seen. In an articulated skull, this opening is partially covered by the uncinate process of the ethmoid bone and the inferior nasal concha.

Anterior to the lacrimal groove, the nasal surface is ridged for the attachment of the inferior nasal concha. Below this the bone forms a lateral wall of the inferior nasal meatus. Above the ridge for a small distance on the medial side of the nasal process, the smooth lateral wall of the middle meatus appears.


The palatine process (Figures 14-2 through 14-8) is a horizontal ledge extending medially from the nasal surface of the maxilla. Its superior surface forms a major portion of the nasal floor. The inferior surfaces of the combined left and right palatine processes form the hard palate as far posteriorly as the second molar, where they articulate with the horizontal parts of the palatine bone (Figures 14-7 and 14-8) at the transverse palatine suture.

The inferior surface of the palatine process is rough and pitted for the palatine mucous glands in the roof of the mouth and is pierced by numerous small foramina for the passage of blood vessels and nerve fibers. At the posterior border of the process is a groove or canal that passes the greater palatine nerve and vessels to the palatal soft tissues. The posterior edge of the palatine process becomes relatively thin where it joins the palatine bone at the point of the greater palatine foramen. The palatine process becomes progressively thicker anteriorly from the posterior border. Anteriorly, the palatal process is confluent with the alveolar process surrounding the roots of the anterior teeth.

Immediately posterior to the central incisor alveolus, when looking at the medial aspect of the maxilla, one sees a smooth groove that is half of the incisive canal, when the two maxillae are joined together. The incisive fossa into which the canals open may be seen immediately lingual to the central incisors at the median line, or intermaxillary suture where the maxillae are joined. Two canals open laterally into the incisive foramen, the foramina of Stenson, carrying the nasopalatine nerves and vessels. Occasionally, two midline foramina are present, the foramina of Scarpi.

Extending laterally from the incisive foramen to the space between the lateral incisor and canine alveoli are the remnants of the suture between the maxilla and premaxilla. In most mammals the premaxilla remains an independent bone.


The alveolar process makes up the inferior portion of the maxilla; it is that portion of the bone which surrounds the roots of the maxillary teeth and which gives them their osseous support. The process extends from the base of the tuberosity posterior to the last molar to the median line anteriorly, where it articulates with the same process of the opposite maxilla (see Figures 14-7 and 14-8). It merges with the palatine process medially and with the zygomatic process laterally (see Figure 14-8).

When one looks directly at the inferior aspect of the maxilla toward the alveoli with the teeth removed, it is apparent that the alveolar process is curved to conform with the dental arch. It completes, with its fellow of the opposite side, the alveolar arch supporting the roots of the teeth of the maxilla.

The process has a facial (labial and buccal) surface and a lingual surface with ridges corresponding to the surfaces of the roots of the teeth supported by it. It is made up of labiobuccal and lingual plates of very dense but thin cortical bone separated by interdental septa of cancellous bone.

The facial plate is thin, and the positions of the alveoli are well marked on it by visible ridges as far posteriorly as the distobuccal root of the first molar (see Figure 14-2). The margins of these alveoli are frail, and their edges are sharp and thin. The buccal plate over the second and third molars, including the alveolar margins, is thicker. Generally, the lingual plate of the alveolar process is heavier than the facial plate. In addition, the alveolar process is longer where it surrounds the anterior teeth, sometimes extending posteriorly to include the premolars. In short, it extends farther down in covering the lingual portion of the roots.

The bone is very thick lingually over the deeper portions of the alveoli of the anterior teeth and premolars. The merging of the alveolar process with the palatal process brings about this formation. The lingual plate is paper thin over the lingual alveolus of the first molar, however, and rather thin over the lingual alveoli of the second and third molars. This thin lingual plate over the molar roots is part of the formation of the greater palatine canal (see Figure 14-8).

The alveolar process is maintained by the presence of the teeth. Should any tooth be lost, that portion of the alveolar process that supported the missing tooth will be subject to atrophic reduction. Should all of the teeth be lost, the alveolar process will eventually be virtually lost.


The alveolar cavities are formed by the facial and lingual plates of the alveolar process and by connecting septa of bone placed between the two plates. The form and depth of each alveolus are determined by the form and length of the root it supports (see Table 1-1).

The alveolus nearest the median line is that of the central incisor (Figure 14-9; see also Figure 14-8). The periphery is regular and round, and the interior of the alveolus is evenly tapered and triangular in cross section, with the apex toward the lingual.

The second alveolus in line is that of the lateral incisor. It is generally conical and egg-shaped, or ovoid, with the widest portion to the labial. It is narrower mesiodistally than labiolingually and is smaller on cross section, although it is often deeper than the central alveolus. Sometimes, it is curved at the upper extremity (Figure 14-10; see also Figure 14-8).

The canine alveolus is the third from the median line. It is much larger and deeper than those just described. The periphery is oval and regular in outline, with the labial width greater than the lingual. The socket extends distally. It is flattened mesially and somewhat concave distally. The bone is so frail at the canine eminence on the facial surface of the alveolus that the root of the canine is often exposed on the labial surface near the middle third (see Figure 14-2).

The first premolar alveolus (see Figures 14-8 and 14-10) is kidney-shaped in cross section, with the cavity partially divided by a spine of bone that fits into the mesial developmental groove of the root of this tooth. This spine divides the cavity into a buccal and a lingual portion. If the tooth root is bifurcated for part of its length, as is often the case, the terminal portion of the cavity is separated into buccal and lingual alveoli. The socket is flattened distally and much wider buccolingually than mesiodistally (see Table 1-1).

The second premolar alveolus is also kidney-shaped, but the curvatures are in reverse to those of the first premolar alveolus. The proportions and depth are almost the same. The septal spine is located on the distal side instead of the medial side, because the second premolar root is inclined to have a well-defined developmental groove distally. This tooth usually has one broad root with a blunt end, but it is occasionally bifurcated at the apical third.

The first molar alveolus (Figures 14-8 and 14-11) is made up of three distinct alveoli widely separated. The lingual alveolus is the largest; it is round, regular, and deep. The cavity extends in the direction of the hard palate, having a lingual plate over it that is very thin. The lingual periphery of this alveolus is extremely sharp and frail. This condition may contribute to the tissue recession often seen at this site.


Figure 14-11 Alveoli of the molar area. Note the thinness of the buccal plates over the first molar roots compared with those of the second and third maxillary molars. The third molar alveoli are rarely separated as distinctly as in this specimen. Figures 14-9, 14-10, and 14-11 demonstrate a number of significant points concerning the maxillary alveoli. In Figure 14-9 the facial cortical plate of bone is thin over the anterior teeth and is considerably thicker over the posterior teeth, especially the molars. Cancellous bone seems to exist buccal to some of the posterior roots. In Figure 14-10 interradicular septa are thick but with numerous nutrient canals. In Figure 14-11 cancellous bone, furnishing numerous opportunities for blood supply, is evident in the apical portions of the alveoli. The anterior alveoli are lined laterally with a layer of smooth cortical bone. This lining is less prominent in the posterior alveoli.

The mesiobuccal and distobuccal alveoli of the first molar have no outstanding characteristics except that the buccal plates are thin. The bone is somewhat thicker at the peripheries than that found on the lingual alveolus. Nevertheless, it is thinner farther up on the buccal plate. It is not uncommon for one to find the roots uncovered by bone in spots when examining dry specimens.

The forms of the buccal alveoli resemble the forms of the roots they support. The mesiobuccal alveolus is broad buccolingually, with the mesial and distal walls flattened. The distobuccal alveolus is rounder and more conical.

The septa that separate the three alveoli (interradicular septa) are broad at the area that corresponds to the root bifurcation, and they become progressively thicker as the peripheries of the alveoli are approached. The bone septa are very cancellous, which denotes a rich blood supply, as is true of all the septa, including those separating the various teeth as well.

A general description of the alveoli of the second molar would coincide with that of the first molar; these alveoli are closer together, since the roots of this tooth do not spread as much. As a consequence, the septa separating the alveoli are not as heavy.

The third molar alveolus is similar to that of the second molar, except that it is somewhat smaller in all dimensions. Figure 14-11 shows a third molar socket to accommodate a tooth with three well-defined roots, a rare occurrence. Usually, the two buccal (and often all three) roots will be fused. The interradicular septum changes accordingly. If the roots of the tooth are fused, a septal spine will appear in the alveolus at the points of fusion on the roots marked by deep developmental grooves.

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Jan 9, 2015 | Posted by in Occlusion | Comments Off on 14: Dento-osseous Structures, Blood Vessels, and Nerves

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