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What Is the Pterygoid Canal?

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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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The human skull, known as the cranium, is made up of twenty-two different bones designed to protect the brain. These bones are joined together by specialized immoveable joints only found in the skull, called sutures. However, the skull is not just a huge mass of merged bones. The interior structure of the cranium contains small openings and passageways, referred to as the sinuses, fossas and canals, one of which is the pterygoid canal.

The pterygoid canal, also named the vidian canal, is a channeled opening running through the sphenoid bone located at the base of bottom-most portion of the skull. This bone sits between the temporal and ethmoid bones, the bones situated above the ear and just behind the eye, respectively. These three bones link together and form the orbit or the eye socket and link the top jaw to the head.

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Inside the butterfly-shaped sphenoid bone there are projections called the pterygoid processes. These are bony prominences, one on each side of the head, that help form the floors and walls of the nasal cavity, the roof of the mouth and the sockets of the eyes. The pterygoid canal is an irregularly shaped opening just above the foramen lacerum, a triangular hole in the base of the skull. This channel runs through a section of the sphenoid bone called the medial pterygoid plate to the posterior wall of the pterygopalatine fossa, a hollowed out section of the bone used to transport blood and nervous system signals.

Since the brain requires nutrients such as a blood supply and oxygen, the bones of the skull do not just as a protective barrier to avert injuries of the brain and to prevent the entrance of foreign invaders such as infections; passageways such as the pterygoid canal are necessary. The pterygoid canal serves as hallway to provide the transportation of a systemic artery or blood vessel called the artery of the pterygoid canal. This artery carries oxygen rich blood away from the heart and into other parts of the body.

Nerves are essential to the functioning of the body and are the communication system between the central nervous system incorporating the brain and spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system, the group of nerves that extends to each part of the body. The pterygoid canal also contains the vidian nerve. This nerve is responsible for innervating or sending and receiving signals to and from the brain and spinal cord into the areas of the nose, face and palate or roof of the mouth.

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