Damage to the branches of the trigeminal nerve can occur as a result of a variety of causes. The most common damage to all divisions of this nerve occurs as a result of facial trauma.
Unfortunately, iatrogenic damage to the inferior alveolar branch of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve is common because of its anatomical position within the mandible and its closeness to the teeth, particularly the third molar.
It has been reported there is an incidence of approximately 0.5% of permanent damage to the inferior alveolar nerve following third molar removal. Extraction of other teeth within the mandible carries a lower incidence of permanent damage. However, damage can still occur in the premolar area, where the nerve exits the mandible via the mental foramen.
Dental implants are a relatively new but increasing cause of damage to this nerve, particularly if the preoperative planning is inadequate. CT scanning is important for planning the placement of implants if this damage is to be reduced.
Primary repair of the damaged nerve will offer the best chance of recovery. However, if there is a gap, and the nerve ends cannot be approximated without tension, a graft is required. Traditionally, nerve grafts have been used for this purpose but other conduits have also been used, including vein grafts.
This article demonstrates the use of vein grafts in the reconstruction of the inferior dental branch of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve following injury, in this case due to difficulty in third molar removal, following sagittal split osteotomy and during the removal of a benign tumour from the mandible. In the five cases presented, this technique has demonstrated good success, with an acceptable return of function occurring in most patients.