Did you know that your lower jawbone is the largest bone in your skull? This bone, medically known as the mandible, shapes the structure of your face and holds your lower teeth in place, according to StatPearls. Here’s why this bone is so important to your dental and overall health.
Anatomy of the Mandible Bone
The mandible is the only mobile bone in the skull other than tiny bones in the ear, which is how it helps you chew, reports StatPearls. The main body of the mandible is curved, and on each side there is a vertical section of bone called a ramus. The left and right rami lead up to the place where the jaw joins the skull, called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
According to the Journal of Forensic Research, the mandible bone changes shape over an individual’s lifetime, and it often has distinctive characteristics in men and women. These differences mean that forensic investigators and anthropologists often use an individual’s mandible to determine the age of an unidentified body.
Conditions Involving the Mandible
Dental Implant Placement
If you’re a candidate for dental implants, your dentist will assess the thickness and strength of your jawbone before deciding if implants are a good option. During a dental implant procedure, your oral surgeon or dentist places one or more titanium posts into the jaw. Once the posts have fused to the bone, the dentist attaches an artificial tooth (crown) to each post. However, if the jawbone is too thin or soft, it might not withstand the forces and pressure of chewing and the implant may fail, explains the Mayo Clinic. If you have inadequate bone in your jaw, your dentist may recommend bone graft surgery, where a surgeon adds real or artificial bone material to the jaw to help strengthen it.
When the mandible, the TMJ and the facial muscles don’t work together in harmony, patients can experience ongoing pain in the joint. According to the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, some of the many symptoms of TMJ disorders include popping, clicking or pain in the jaw joints, jaw locking, headaches, dizziness, earaches, neck pain and even tingling or numbness in the fingers. A TMJ problem can sometimes result from misaligned teeth or jaws, but other times the condition doesn’t have a clear explanation.
Problems with the jaw joint are sometimes related to teeth grinding. This can damage the surface of the teeth, and if the problem goes untreated, it can lead to bone loss and even weaken the bone so much that a tooth may become loose, reports University of Utah Health. Your dentist can check for signs of grinding and might recommend a mouth guard to help minimize the damage to the teeth and bone.
The Mayo Clinic describes sleep apnea as a condition where breathing stops briefly, but regularly during sleep. Its symptoms include headache, snoring and daytime sleepiness, but more serious complications, such as high blood pressure and liver problems, can develop. Sometimes, treatment for sleep apnea involves repositioning the jawbone, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Any accident that causes an injury to the face can lead to a jawbone fracture. The Cleveland Clinic states that mandible fractures are the second most common facial fractures after broken noses. Signs of a broken jaw include a numb chin, bruising under the tongue, a tender, painful jaw and an inability to bring the teeth together properly. The best time to repair a mandible fracture is seven to 10 days after the injury.
The American Dental Association advises patients who are taking medication to treat osteoporosis — a condition causing weak and brittle bones — to tell their dentists. On rare occasions, these medications can cause a condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). ONJ can result in severe damage to the mandible bone, often after dental procedures that involve the jawbone or surrounding tissues, like tooth removal. Osteoporosis medications are also sometimes given as part of cancer treatment, so be sure to share your full medical history with your dentist.
How to Maintain a Healthy Mandible Bone
Your teeth are supported by the mandible, so a weak jawbone can result in tooth loss, particularly in older individuals, explains the New York State Department of Health. To maintain dense, strong, healthy bones, most adults should eat a diet that includes 1000 to 1200 milligrams of calcium per day. This mineral comes from dairy products, lean protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables. It’s also important to get enough vitamin D. Your doctor can advise you on whether vitamin or calcium supplements are necessary in addition to your diet.
The New York State Department of Health also recommends maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity to keep your bones strong. To maintain optimal oral health, brush twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and floss once per day. Lastly, be sure to visit your dentist regularly. They can check for early signs of jawbone problems and help you receive the treatment you need.