The human mandible: Lever or link?



The mammalian mandible, and in particular the human mandible, is generally thought to function as a lever during biting. This notion, however, has not gone unchallenged. Various workers have suggested that the mandible does not function as a lever, and they base this proposition on essentially two assertions: (1) the resultant of the forces produced by the masticatory muscles always passes through the bite point; (2) the condylar neck and/or the temporomandibular joint is unsuited to withstand reaction forces during biting.

A review of the electromyographic data and of the properties of the tissues of the temporomandibular joint do not support the non-lever hypothesis of mandibular function. In addition, an analysis of the strength of the condylar neck demonstrates that this structure is strong enough to withstand the expected reaction force during lever action.

Ordinarily the human mandible and the forces that act upon it are analyzed solely in the lateral projection. Moments are then usually analyzed about the mandibular condyle; however, some workers have advocated taking moments about other points, e.g., the instantaneous center of rotation. Obviously it makes no difference as to what point is chosen since the moments about any point during equilibrium conditions are equal to zero.

It is also useful to analyze the forces acting on the mandible in the frontal projection, particularly during unilateral biting. The electromyographic data suggest that during powerful unilateral molar biting the resultant adductor muscle force is passing between the bite point and the balancing (non-biting side) condyle. Therefore, in order for this system to be in equilibrium there must be a reaction force acting on the balancing condyle. This suggests that reaction forces are larger on the balancing side than on the working side, and possibly explains why individuals with a painful temporomandibular joint usually prefer to bite on the side of the diseased joint.