The cheekbone, called the zygomatic or malar bone, is a paired bone with one bone located underneath each eye socket. Each cheekbone attaches to other facial bones and muscles. Cheekbones are part of the skull, although they don't touch the brain. They are a prominent feature on some people, especially on those of Asian descent. After nasal bones, cheekbones are the most commonly fractured facial bones.

Cheekbone Structure

The cheekbone has four sides and approximates a diamond or trapezoid shape. Three cheekbone extensions or outgrowths, called processes, on the cheekbone reach out and touch the processes of other facial bones. The cheekbone has two surfaces: the malar and the temporal. The malar surface is convex and has a small opening near its center for nerves and blood vessels to pass through, while the temporal surface is smooth, triangular and concave.

Connection to Other Facial Bones

The cheekbone connects to four other facial bones: the maxilla, the temporal bone, the frontal bone and the sphenoid bone. The part of the cheekbone that forms a large part of the eye socket is smooth and concave, but the part that contacts the maxilla is rough and beveled. The paired maxilla bones form the upper jaw and nasal cavity. The temporal bones are on the sides of the skull, or cranium, and contain cavities for the ear and auditory tube. The frontal bone, or forehead bone, is a single bone that forms the front of the skull, while the paired sphenoid bones are located at the base of the frontal skull, and each bone's shape resembles a flying bat.

The Zygomatic Arch

The extension of the cheekbone, or zygomatic bone, meets the extension of the temporal bone forming the "zygomatic arch." The tendon of the temporal muscle passes beneath the arch. The zygomatic arch is a pronounced facial feature and also supports the jaw muscle, which is needed to bite and chew food.

Cheekbone Fractures

Cheekbone and zygomatic arch fractures are common in trauma caused by traffic accidents, assaults and to a lesser degree by contact sports. Fracture often continue from the cheekbones to the connecting facial bones. Such fractures, called "zygomatic complex fractures," are serious and sometimes difficult to repair surgically without endangering the eye sight (see Reference 2).

Role of Cheekbone in Aging and Forensics

A prominent or high cheekbone is thought to be a sign of youth and beauty. Women, especially in Western cultures, favor high cheekbones and sometimes accentuate their cheekbones with make-up. The cheekbone is attached to the malaris muscle, which tends to disappear in aging Caucasian faces, but not in aging faces of other ethnic groups. Because the cheekbone is so distinct in different ethnic groups, the structure of the cheekbones helps to identify skeletal remains in forensics. For example, Native American skulls have much stronger or prominent cheekbones than skulls of European ancestry.