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The alveolar process is a thick bony ridge that largely consists of sockets in which the teeth are embedded. It is also responsible for supporting the tooth roots. The teeth sockets are clinically known as dental alveoli, which is the plural form of dental alveolus. This is the term that gives this ridge its name. Sometimes the alveolar process is also referred to as the alveolar bone due to its location and structure.
In humans, the alveolar process is found on the maxilla and the mandible, which are the upper jaw and lower jaw, respectively. In many animals, the ridge is additionally found in the premaxilla, which is a collection of cranial bones that are situated between the bones that constitute the maxilla. Notably, the ridge on the maxilla is sometimes called the maxillary arch.
The alveolar process is positioned in such a way that it borders the upper and lower jaws. The ridge on the maxilla is located on the structure's inferior surface, or underneath the upper jaw. On the other hand, the ridge on the mandible is situated on its superior surface, meaning that it lies on top of the lower jaw. Thus, the teeth occupying the sockets form an upper and lower row that are supposed to meet each other when the jaws are closed; this is an alignment known as occlusion.
Teeth in the alveolar process are attached to the dental alveoli of the upper jaw with a group of specialized connective tissue fibers called the periodontal ligament (PDL), or periodontal fiber. The PDL is necessary for ensuring that the teeth remain embedded in the ridges, especially during the compressive force that takes place with chewing food. Also worthy of note are gomphosis, which are immovable fibrous joints responsible for binding the teeth to the dental alveoli of both the maxilla and mandible.
Adjacent to the PDL is a region of the alveolar process known as the lamina dura. Also called immature bone, it is responsible for providing the attachment surface of the PDL's Sharpey's fibers for rooting the teeth. Additionally, the bucinnator muscle, found in the upper and lower jaws, works with the alveolar bone in regulating movement between the teeth and the cheeks during not just eating, but smiling and whistling as well.
A fracture can occur in the alveolar process when there is a dislocation in the jaw. Such a condition is more common with the maxilla than the mandible. Additionally, the teeth sockets are susceptible to swelling or inflammation, which can lead to alveolitis.