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What causes fissured tongue? 2 possible conditions

What Is Fissured Tongue?

Fissured tongue is a benign condition affecting the top surface of the tongue. A normal tongue is relatively flat across the length of the organ. A fissured tongue is marked by a deep groove or fissure in the middle. You may have one or more fissures of varying sizes and depths.

Fissured tongue is a fairly common occurrence, according to Dr. Robert D. Kelsch of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Between two and five percent of the American population has a fissured tongue. Worldwide estimates for people with a fissured tongue hover around 20 percent (Kelsch, 2012).

Symptoms of Fissured Tongue

A fissured tongue can make it look almost as if the tongue were split in half lengthwise. The deep groove in the tongue is usually very visible. This makes diagnosing the condition easy for your physician or dentist. The middle section of the tongue is most often affected, but you can also have fissures on other areas of the tongue.

You may experience another harmless tongue abnormalities along with a fissured tongue, called geographic tongue. Geographic tongue is named for its appearance, like the contours of a relief map. A normal tongue is covered in bumps called papillae. People with geographic tongue are missing papillae in areas of the tongue. The spots without papillae are smooth and red in color.

Neither fissured tongue nor geographic tongue hurts, is contagious, or is harmful to your health. You can develop either condition at any point in your life

Causes of Fissured Tongue

Researchers have not yet pinpointed a cause for fissured tongue. According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), the fissured appearance is thought by many in the medical community to be a variation of a normal tongue (AAOM, 2008).

People with Down syndrome and Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome have an increased risk of developing a fissured tongue. Down syndrome, also called trisomy 21, is a genetic condition that can cause a variety of physical and mental impairments. Those with Down syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two.

Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is a neurological condition characterized by three main symptoms:

  • fissured tongue
  • Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis
  • swelling of the face and upper lip

A genetic link that causes fissured tongue is also a possibility. The condition is often seen in higher concentrations within families (Kelsch, 2012). Men are more likely to have a fissured tongue than women (AAOM, 2008).

Treatment for Fissured Tongue

Fissured tongue generally does not require treatment. Good oral and dental care is important, however, as bacteria and plaque can collect in the fissures, leading to bad breath and an increased potential for tooth decay.

Keep up with your normal dental care routine, including daily brushing and flossing. Visit your dentist twice yearly for a professional cleaning.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is the most common genetic condition in the United States. It causes physical and mental developmental delays and disabilities.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.