A person’s tongue is generally flat and does not have significant grooves. Fissured tongue causes a person to develop one or more grooves on the top portion of their tongue. It does not usually require treatment.

Fissured tongue is a common condition. Approximately 5% of people in the United States have it, and the numbers vary considerably in countries throughout the world. Fissured tongue may appear for no apparent reason, but some people may have an underlying condition that doctor or dentist may need to rule out.

Fissured tongue is neither contagious nor painful. However, other conditions, such as geographic tongue or food caught in the groove, can cause pain.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes and treatment for fissured tongue.

a woman checking to see if she has a fissured tongueShare on Pinterest
A person with a fissured tongue may experience pain if food gets stuck in a groove.

Fissured tongue is when one or more grooves appear on the surface of the tongue. These grooves can be shallow or deep. Usually, the primary fissure occurs in the middle of the tongue.

In some cases, the fissures may be large and deep, making the tongue look like it has distinct sections. The tongue may also have a cracked appearance.

A person may also have geographic tongue. Geographic tongue is when patches on the tongue become free of papillae, which are the tiny bumps on the surface of the tongue. When a person has geographic tongue, smooth, red patches, which often have raised borders, replace the papillae. The condition gets its name because the tongue resembles a map.

Learn more about geographic tongue here.

Fissured tongue is most common in older people, although anyone can develop it. Males are also more likely than females to develop fissured tongue.

Doctors are not certain what causes fissured tongue. However, there may be a genetic link that means certain people are more likely to develop it.

One article published in Allied Academics looked at the frequency of fissured tongue in people in South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, only 0.6% of the population had fissured tongue, compared to nearly 30.6% of the people in Israel. Researchers believe that this could be evidence of a genetic factor.

However, the study in South Africa involved children and, therefore, does not reflect the entire population. However, the idea that a genetic component may play a role in fissured tongue development remains a possibility.

Fissured tongue often first appears in childhood. However, the condition typically becomes more pronounced as the person ages.

Fissured tongue may have links to other conditions, including:

  • geographic tongue
  • orofacial granulomatosis
  • Down syndrome
  • pustular psoriasis
  • Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (a neurological condition associated with facial paralysis and swelling of the upper lip and face)

Malnutrition may also cause fissured tongue to occur. But this is less common.

A fissured tongue does not typically require treatment. Often, it does not have any symptoms, and a person may not know they have the condition until a dentist discovers it during a routine checkup.

Complications of fissured tongue typically occur if food or other debris get caught in the grooves. If this happens, it can cause irritation or allow bacteria to grow. The bacteria trapped in the fissures can cause bad breath or promote tooth decay.

In extreme cases, Candida albicans may infect very deep grooves. Anyone who develops this complication will require treatment with a topical antifungal medication.

The best prevention against fissured tongue is to practice proper oral hygiene, including cleaning of the mouth at least twice a day and regular visits to the dentist.

In most cases, fissured tongue will not cause any symptoms, so a person may not visit the dentist for this purpose. A person may not visit a dentist unless they are experiencing pain. However, it is a good idea to visit the dentist twice a year for routine care. People should also go to their dentist if they have any oral pain or discomfort that does not go away.

Fissured tongue is not a major cause for concern. It can lead to minor to moderate complications, such as bad breath, tooth decay, or mild infections in rare cases.

A person may develop fissured tongue as a child, but it can become more pronounced as the person ages.

Fissured tongue does not usually cause additional symptoms in most people.

Treatment typically involves routine oral care.