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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, researchers believe it may occur as a result of an underlying syndrome or condition, such as malnutrition, infection, or Down syndrome. Since fissured tongue is often seen in families, the condition may also be genetic. It is seen more often in men than in women. The frequency and severity of fissured tongue also appears to increase with age.
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. However, both can cause some discomfort and increase sensitivity to certain substances.
Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed the precise cause for fissured tongue. However, the condition is thought by many to be a variation of a normal tongue.
Fissured tongue is also 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.
Fissured tongue might also be a genetic condition, as it is often seen in higher concentrations within families.
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.
Written by: Erica Roth
Medically reviewed on: Mar 10, 2016: Hannah Nam MD
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