The mental foramen and nerve: clinical and anatomical factors related to dental implant placement: a literature review.
BACKGROUND: The mental foramen is a strategically important landmark during osteotomy procedures. Its location and the possibility that an anterior loop of the mental nerve may be present mesial to the mental foramen needs to be considered before implant surgery to avoid mental nerve injury. METHODS: Articles that addressed the position, number, and size of the mental foramen, mental nerve anatomy, and consequences of nerve damage were evaluated for information pertinent to clinicians performing implant dentistry. RESULTS: The mental foramen may be oval or round and is usually located apical to the second mandibular premolar or between apices of the premolars. However, its location can vary from the mandibular canine to the first molar. The foramen may not appear on conventional radiographs, and linear measurements need to be adjusted to account for radiographic distortion. Computerized tomography (CT) scans are more accurate for detecting the mental foramen than conventional radiographs. There are discrepancies between studies regarding the prevalence and length of the loop of the mental nerve mesial to the mental foramen. Furthermore, investigations that compared radiographic and cadaveric dissection data with respect to identifying the anterior loop reported that radiographic assessments result in a high percentage of false-positive and -negatives findings. Sensory dysfunction due to nerve damage in the foraminal area can occur if the inferior alveolar or mental nerve is damaged during preparation of an osteotomy. CONCLUSIONS: To avoid nerve injury during surgery in the foraminal area, guidelines were developed based on the literature with respect to verifying the position of the mental foramen and validating the presence of an anterior loop of the mental nerve. These guidelines included leaving a 2 mm zone of safety between an implant and the coronal aspect of the nerve; observation of the inferior alveolar nerve and mental foramen on panoramic and periapical films prior to implant placement; use of CT scans when these techniques do not provide clarity with respect to the position of the nerve; surgical corroboration of the mental foramen's position when an anterior loop of the mental foramen is suspected of being present or if it is unclear how much bone is present coronal to the foramen to establish a zone of safety (in millimeters) for implant placement; once a safety zone is identified, implants can be placed anterior to, posterior to, or above the mental foramen; and prior to placing an implant anterior to the mental foramen that is deeper than the safety zone, the foramen must be probed to exclude the possibility that an anterior loop is present. In general, altered lip sensations are preventable if the mental foramen is located and this knowledge is employed when performing surgical procedures in the foraminal area.