Overview

Fissured tongue is a benign condition affecting the top surface of the tongue. A normal tongue is relatively flat across its length. A fissured tongue is marked by a deep, prominent groove in the middle.

There may also be small furrows or fissures across the surface, causing the tongue to have a wrinkled appearance. There may be one or more fissures of varying sizes and depths.

Fissured tongue occurs in approximately 5 percent of Americans. It may be evident at birth or develop during childhood. The exact cause of fissured tongue isn’t known.

However, it may sometimes occur in association with an underlying syndrome or condition, such as malnutrition or Down syndrome.

A fissured tongue can make it appear as though the tongue were split in half lengthwise. Sometimes there are multiple fissures as well. Your tongue may also appear cracked.

The deep groove in the tongue is usually very visible. This makes it easy for your doctors and dentists to diagnose the condition. The middle section of the tongue is most often affected, but there may also be fissures on other areas of the tongue.

You may experience another harmless tongue abnormality along with a fissured tongue, known as geographic tongue.

A normal tongue is covered with tiny, pinkish-white bumps called papillae. People with geographic tongue are missing papillae in different areas of the tongue. The spots without papillae are smooth and red and often have slightly raised borders.

Neither fissured tongue nor geographic tongue is a contagious or harmful condition, nor does either condition usually cause any symptoms. However, some people report some discomfort and increased sensitivity to certain substances.

Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed the precise cause of fissured tongue. The condition may be genetic, as it’s often seen in higher concentrations within families. Fissured tongue may also be caused by a different underlying condition.

However, fissured tongue is thought by many to be a variation of a normal tongue.

Signs of fissured tongue may be present during childhood, but the appearance tends to become more severe and prominent as you age.

Men may be slightly more likely to have fissured tongue than women, and older adults with dry mouth tend to have more severe symptoms.

Fissured tongue is sometimes associated with certain syndromes, particularly Down syndrome and Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome.

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

In rare cases, fissured tongue is also associated with certain conditions, including:

Fissured tongue generally doesn’t require treatment.

However, it’s important to maintain proper oral and dental care, such as brushing the top surface of the tongue to remove food debris and clean the tongue. 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 each year for a professional cleaning.