Upper jaw: anatomy, function and treatment

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The upper jaw is the bone that makes up the skull. It is located in the middle of the face, forms the upper jaw, separates the nasal and oral cavities, and contains the maxillary sinuses (located on each side of the nose.

One of the most important functions of the upper jaw is to shape the architecture of our face and support the rest of the viscerocranium , which is technically made up of two pyramidal bones fused in the middle.

The upper jaw contains the upper teeth, which make up the upper part of the mouth (palate) and the lower part of the orbit (the bones that surround and contain the eyes).

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Anatomy

The upper jaw is located in the center of the skull and forms the center of the face. The lower part of the upper jaw is connected to the upper teeth through the alveolar ridge. The roots of the teeth form grooves that extend to the front of the upper jaw.

The alveolar process runs posteriorly below the maxillary sinuses and ends with the tuberosity of the upper jaw. The alveolar process also contains the channels through which the alveolar arteries, nerves, and periodontal ligaments pass.

The area of the midline where the two pyramidal bones of the upper jaw fuse through the upper jaw midline suture is called the palatine process. The palatal process includes the bottom of the nose and part of the hard palate.

The anterior part of the hard palate contains the incisal canal, through which the nasopalatine nerve and the sphenoid-palatal artery pass. The palatine process also consists of the upper nasal openings.

The outermost part of the upper jaw is called the zygomatic process because it articulates with the zygomatic bone and forms the lower orbital rim (just below the eye). On the side of the zygomatic process, on the anterior surface of the upper jaw, there is a depression known as the canine fossa.

Another depression, called the zygomatic-alveolar ridge, lies below the zygomatic process and just above the alveolar process.

The part of the upper jaw that connects to the frontal bone at the top and the nasal bones medially is called the frontal process. The frontal process forms several important structures, including the nasolacrimal sulcus, the lower part of the forehead (the area between the eyebrows, but just below), and the bridge of the nose.

The sinuses are easily defined as holes in the skull that reduce the weight of the skull. They are filled with air and lined with mucous membranes . The maxillary sinuses are one of the largest sinuses in the skull. Like the maxillary bone, the maxillary sinuses are pyramidal in shape with the apex extending into the zygomatic bone .

Function

The upper jaw has several functions. It provides the critical bone structure of the skull and, for example, contours the face. Since it contains the upper teeth and is part of the jaw, the upper jaw is essential for chewing (chewing) and speaking.

The mucous membrane that lines the maxillary sinuses heats and hydrates the air we breathe and produces mucus that acts as an immune defense. The maxillary sinuses can be susceptible to diseases, including benign and malignant neoplasms and infections.

The upper jaw forms the floor and the side wall of the nasal cavity, which are also important for the function of breathing, humidifying, and heating the air.

Related conditions

The upper jaw can be affected by birth defects, trauma, and infection.

Cleft palate

A cleft palate is a condition in which the hard or soft palate does not heal properly during fetal development, leaving a cleft in the palate. It is present at birth and can cause breathing, speech and feeding problems, since food and liquids can enter the nasal cavity directly. This is often caused by a genetic syndrome .

Facial fractures

Any trauma to the face can lead to upper jaw fractures. These fractures are classified by healthcare professionals using the LeFort Maxillary Fracture Classification System.

Sinusitis

Sinus inflammation and infection is not uncommon and is more likely to occur in people with underlying medical conditions, such as allergies . Symptoms can include facial pain, nasal congestion, and a runny nose.

Depending on the underlying cause, treatment may include antibiotics, allergy medications, or even sinus surgery .

Treatment and rehabilitation

Conditions associated with the upper jaw are often treated with surgery. In the case of a cleft palate, immediate problems related to the ability to breathe or eat should be prioritized. Sometimes breathing tubes, special bottles, or feeding tubes are used for this.

Once these problems are properly addressed, a cleft palate can be surgically corrected. Sometimes several operations are required depending on the degree of the defect. Rehabilitation can include a speech therapist or dental care .

Treatment of any upper jaw fracture depends on the extent and nature of the injury. If you are seriously injured, fractures in that part of your face can affect your ability to breathe. In this case, steps must be taken to place a tracheostomy tube or other means to restore breathing before further examination and treatment can be continued.

Unfortunately, fractures in this area also often affect your ability to eat. If the fracture is small and not extensive, it can heal with rest, a light diet, and pain relievers. Larger and more extensive fractures of the upper jaw may require surgery, especially if there has been trauma to the surrounding nerves or blood vessels .

Inflammation or infection of the maxillary sinuses (sinusitis) can be acute or chronic. Acute sinusitis usually resolves within a few days to a few weeks, while chronic sinusitis sometimes persists for months or more.

The sinus cavities can become infected with bacteria or other microbes, such as fungi. In case of bacterial infection, antibiotics are needed. Allergic conditions can cause persistent inflammation and swelling of the sinuses and, in some cases, lead to abnormal growths within the sinus cavities, called polyps, which require surgical removal.

Common treatments for sinusitis are measures to control underlying allergies and inflammations, such as antihistamines and sometimes surgery .

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