In adults, the lateral pterygoid muscle (LPM) is usually divided into the upper and lower heads, between which the buccal nerve passes. Using sagittal or horizontal sections of 14 fetuses and seven embryos (five specimens at approximately 20–25 weeks; five at 14–16 weeks; four at 8 weeks; seven at 6–7 weeks), we examined the topographical relationship between the LPM and the buccal nerve. In large fetuses later than 15 weeks, the upper head of the LPM was clearly discriminated from the lower head. However, the upper head was much smaller than the lower head in the smaller fetuses. Thus, in the latter, the upper head was better described as an ‘anterior slip’ extending from the lower head or the major muscle mass to the anterior side of the buccal nerve. The postero-anterior nerve course seemed to be determined by a branch to the temporalis muscle (i.e. the anterior deep temporal nerve). At 8 weeks, the buccal nerve passed through the roof of the small, fan-like LPM. At 6–7 weeks, the LPM anlage was embedded between the temporobuccal nerve trunk and the inferior alveolar nerve. Therefore, parts of the LPM were likely to ‘leak’ out of slits between the origins of the mandibular nerve branches at 7–8 weeks, and seemed to grow in size during weeks 14–20 and extend anterosuperiorly along the infratemporal surface of the prominently developing greater wing of the sphenoid bone. Consequently, the topographical relationship between the LPM and the buccal nerve appeared to ‘change’ during fetal development due to delayed development of the upper head.