The facial bones are a group of bones that make up the skeleton of the face, and they’re present in both humans and animals. Humans typically have 14 bones in the face and these, along with the eight bones of the neurocranium or braincase, form the skull. They are usually thought to consist of a single mandible and vomer, and pairs of maxillary, zygomatic, nasal, lacrimal, and palatine bones. These bones begin growing as a fetus develops and, as almost all bones do, continue expanding in increments as a person approaches maturity. In addition to forming the basic structure of the face, these bones create cavities at the locations of the sense organs necessary for seeing, smelling, and tasting. They also allow for the intake of food and air, and anchor the teeth and facial muscles. The small size of these bones often means that they take less time to heal when fractured, though injuries in this region can be more noticeable; if healing isn’t perfect, it can dramatically impact the way a person tastes or smells as well as altering his or her general appearance.
One of the most easily recognized facial bones is the jaw. Humans and almost all animals have hinged jaws that open to allow food, air, and water access to the respiratory and digestive systems. The mandible, or lower jawbone, sits at the base of the facial skeleton. It is primarily responsible for the motion of chewing. It’s the largest and also the strongest bone in this region, and is also the only one that has a significant range of motion. This range comes from the bone’s two temporomandibular joints, which allow the mandible and the teeth it holds to rise and fall.
The two maxillary bones make up the upper jaw and the central portion of the facial skeleton. These bones are joined to all the other bones of the face excluding the mandible. Like the mandible, though, they have an alveolar margin that connects with the tooth sockets. The maxillary bones connect to the upper teeth and the mandible to the lower jaw to form a complete mouth.
The zygomatic bones, commonly called the cheekbones, form joints with the temporal bones of the braincase. They also form a lower portion of the eye sockets and are responsible for the raised portion of the cheeks. Next to the cheekbones are the nasal bones. These bones join with the cartilage that forms the outer nose. The nasal bones are some the most commonly injured bones in humans, probably because of the way the fleshy nose sticks out; objects that hit or smash the cartilage of the nose often also come into contact with these thin and delicate bones.
Allowing for the Eyes and Nose
The lacrimal bones are situated in the inner portion of the eye sockets. They form part of a structure that holds the lacrimal sac, which allows tears to flow into the nasal cavity. The palatine bones are two small bones located behind the maxillary bones, and the vomer is located in the nasal cavity. This small, solitary bone makes up the lower part of the septum of the nose.
The bones that make up the face also create special structures, called orbits, that hold each of the eyes and the eye muscles in place. Each orbit is created by parts of each facial bone, excluding the mandible. The nasal cavity, by comparison, is formed by parts of the maxillary and palatine bones as well as cartilage.
Healing Time and Injury Concerns
The facial bones are often some of the fastest to regenerate in case of injury or fracture, but they are also some of the most prone to damage. Humans and animals alike often take blows to the face when they’re involved in accidents or fights, particularly where speed is involved; facial injuries are also some of the most common in organized sports and amongst athletes. Modern medical experts are often highly skilled in facial reconstruction, but these bones’ proximity to the eyes, the nose, and even the brain mean that complications can be more serious. It’s usually a good idea for people who have experienced facial trauma to get care promptly to reduce the risk of lasting damage to things like sight or smell.