The infratemporal fossa is a cavity with an irregular shape located below the zygomatic arch, also known as the cheek bone. This cavity contains several of the structures responsible for supplying the face and head. The types of structures contained within the infratemporal fossa include muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.
The muscles found within this cavity include both the medial and lateral pterygoid muscles as well as a portion of the temporalis muscle. The pterygoid muscles have the responsibility of helping to move the lower jaw. The role of the temporalis muscle is to raise the lower jaw, allowing the mouth to close.
The maxillary artery and several branches of this vessel are found within the infratemporal fossa. This artery is responsible for supplying clean blood to the deepest structures found in the face. Also located in the infratemporal fossa is a network of veins termed the pterygoid venous plexus. This network leads into the maxillary vein, which is responsible for carrying used blood from the face back to the heart.
The mandibular nerve, along with some of its branches, are among the nerves found within the infratemporal fossa. The mandibular nerve is the largest branch of the nerve known as the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for facial sensations. The chorda tympani is a branch of the facial nerve and assists with the sensation of taste.
The cavity is bordered on the front by the maxilla, sometimes called the mustache bone. At the back of this cavity lies the sphenoid bone, found at the base of the skull. Other structures bordering the infratemporal fossa include the lateral pterygoid plate and the ramus portion of the mandible, or jawbone.
Due to its location as well as the variety of structures located within the infratemporal fossa, this cavity is susceptible to damage caused by conditions such as infections or tumors. Infections are often caused by dental abscesses that move to this open area. This can happen spontaneously or following a dental procedure such as a tooth extraction. Without prompt treatment, such infections are potentially life threatening.
Tumors affecting the infratemporal fossa and surrounding areas often require surgical intervention. The exact treatment will depend on the extent of the damage as well as whether the tumor becomes malignant, or cancerous. Prognosis also depends on the individual situation, although surgery to remove the tumor is often successful, allowing the patient to lead a normal life.