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Volume 15 , Issue 4
Fall 2001

The Role of the Human Lateral Pterygoid Muscle in the Control of Horizontal Jaw Movements

Greg M. Murray, MDS, PhD, Intira Phanachet, DDS, Shinji Uchida, DDS, PhD, Terry Whittle, BSocSci

PMID: 12400398

There is a limited understanding of the normal function of the lateral pterygoid muscle (LP) and the role that this muscle plays in temporomandibular disorders. This article addresses the hypothesis that a major function of the LP is in the control of horizontal jaw movements. The range of fiber alignments suited to generating a major horizontal force vector (magnitude and direction), together with the likelihood of independent activation of subcompartments (that is, functionally heterogeneous zones) within each head, provide the possibility of a finely graded range of force vectors on the condyle to effect the fine control of horizontal jaw movements. This level of control does not appear to extend to the control of resting jaw posture, as recent single motor unit (SMU) data indicate that the LP is inactive with the jaw in the postural jaw position. Available electromyographic data demonstrate graded changes in multiunit and SMU activity with small horizontal jaw displacements at low force levels, a single preferred direction of the SMU firing rate during horizontal isometric jaw tasks, and graded changes in the SMU firing rate with horizontal force magnitude and direction. The evidence suggests that a major function of the LP is in the generation and fine control of the horizontal component of jaw movement by the graded activation of a subset of SMUs within the LP. The data also suggest that the LP is involved in the generation of horizontal force vectors, as required in parafunctional activities and heavy mastication.

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