Understanding Wisdom Teeth: What Are They and Why Do We Have Them?

A detailed look at wisdom teeth, their purpose, and why they often cause problems.

At Caps & Crowns Dental in Naperville, IL, we often receive questions about wisdom teeth. These third molars can be a source of confusion and discomfort for many people. To help you understand more about them, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on what wisdom teeth are, their purpose, and why they frequently cause problems. Our goal is to ensure that you have all the information needed to make informed decisions about your oral health. Whether you are experiencing issues with your wisdom teeth or are just curious, we’re here to help.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars located at the very back of your mouth. Most people have four wisdom teeth, one in each corner of the mouth. These teeth usually begin to emerge between the ages of 17 and 25, a period often referred to as the “age of wisdom,” hence their name.

The Purpose of Wisdom Teeth

Historically, wisdom teeth served a useful function for our ancestors. Early humans had a diet that consisted of rough and coarse foods like roots, nuts, leaves, and raw meat, which required a lot of chewing power. The extra molars helped grind down these tough foods. Additionally, because early humans had larger jaws with more space, wisdom teeth had room to grow in properly.

Over time, as human diets evolved to include softer, cooked foods, the need for extra molars diminished. Consequently, our jaws became smaller through evolution, which often leaves insufficient space for wisdom teeth to grow in correctly.

Why Wisdom Teeth Often Cause Problems

For many people in modern times, wisdom teeth can cause a variety of issues due to the lack of space in the mouth. Here are some common problems associated with wisdom teeth:

1. Impaction

When there isn’t enough room in the jaw for wisdom teeth to emerge, they can become impacted. An impacted tooth is one that is blocked from fully erupting through the gums. There are several types of impaction:

  • Soft tissue impaction: The crown of the tooth has emerged through the bone but not the gums.
  • Partial bony impaction: The tooth has partially erupted but part of it remains trapped in the jawbone.
  • Complete bony impaction: The tooth is entirely encased in the jawbone.

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain, swelling, and infection.

2. Crowding

Even if wisdom teeth do erupt fully, they can cause overcrowding in the mouth. This can push other teeth out of alignment, leading to crooked teeth and potentially undoing orthodontic work.

3. Decay and Gum Disease

Wisdom teeth are located at the very back of the mouth, making them difficult to clean properly. This can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Food particles and bacteria can easily become trapped around these teeth, causing cavities and periodontal issues.

4. Cysts and Tumors

In rare cases, impacted wisdom teeth can lead to the development of cysts or tumors. These growths can damage the jawbone and surrounding teeth if not addressed promptly.

When to Consider Removal

Due to the potential for complications, many dentists recommend removing wisdom teeth even if they aren’t currently causing any problems. This is often a preventative measure to avoid future issues. Here are some signs that you might need your wisdom teeth removed:

  • Pain: Persistent pain or discomfort at the back of your mouth can indicate an issue with your wisdom teeth.
  • Swelling: Swollen gums or jaw can be a sign of infection or impaction.
  • Bad Breath: Persistent bad breath or an unpleasant taste in your mouth may be due to trapped food particles and bacteria around the wisdom teeth.
  • Difficulty Opening Your Mouth: If you find it hard to open your mouth fully, it could be due to impacted wisdom teeth.

The Removal Process

If your dentist in Naperville recommends wisdom tooth removal, the process typically involves a few steps:

1. Consultation and Examination

Your dentist will conduct a thorough examination, often including X-rays, to determine the position of your wisdom teeth and the best approach for removal.

2. Anesthesia

To ensure your comfort during the procedure, local anesthesia, sedation, or general anesthesia may be used, depending on the complexity of the extraction.

3. Extraction

The dentist or oral surgeon will make an incision in the gum to access the tooth. If necessary, the tooth may be divided into smaller pieces for easier removal.

4. Post-Operative Care

After the extraction, you’ll receive instructions on how to care for the surgical site. This includes advice on pain management, swelling reduction, and maintaining oral hygiene to prevent infection.

Recovery and Aftercare

Recovery from wisdom tooth extraction typically takes a few days to a week. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Rest: Avoid strenuous activities for a few days to help your body heal.
  • Ice Packs: Applying ice packs to your face can reduce swelling.
  • Soft Foods: Stick to soft foods and avoid hot, spicy, or crunchy foods that can irritate the extraction site.
  • Oral Hygiene: Keep your mouth clean by rinsing gently with salt water and avoiding the surgical site when brushing your teeth.
  • Follow-Up: Attend any scheduled follow-up appointments to ensure proper healing.


Understanding wisdom teeth and the problems they can cause is crucial for maintaining good oral health. At Caps & Crowns Dental in Naperville, we’re here to help you navigate any issues with your wisdom teeth and provide expert care and guidance. If you’re experiencing any symptoms or have concerns about your wisdom teeth, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re dedicated to helping you achieve a healthy, pain-free smile. Our Naperville office is always ready to provide the care and support you need for optimal dental health. Our experienced team will discuss your options with you and ensure your safety and comfort throughout.

For questions or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at 630-355-5988 or send us a message online at