The tongue is generally flat and free of prominent grooves. Fissured tongue shows one or more furrows on the upper part of the tongue. Fissured tongue is neither contagious nor painful. However, other conditions, such as a geographic tongue or food stuck in the groove, can cause pain.
Fissured tongue is a common condition. About 5% of people have it, and the numbers vary widely in countries around the world. Fissured tongue can appear for no apparent reason, but some people may have an underlying condition that the doctor or dentist should rule out.
What is Fissured Tongue?
A person with a cracked tongue may feel pain if food gets stuck in a groove. We speak of fissured tongue when one or more furrows appear on the surface of the tongue. These furrows can be shallow or deep. Usually the primary fissure occurs in the middle of the tongue.
In some cases, the fissures may be wide and deep, making the tongue appear to have separate sections. The tongue may also have a cracked appearance.
A person can also have geographic tongue. Geographic tongue is when areas of the tongue are devoid of papillae, which are the small bumps on the surface of the tongue. When a person has geographic tongue, smooth red plaques, the edges of which are often raised, replace the papillae. This condition gets its name from the fact that the tongue looks like a map.
Fissured tongue is more common in older people, although anyone can develop it. Men are also more likely than women to develop fissured tongue.
Causes of a Fissured Tongue
Doctors aren’t sure what causes fissured tongue. However, there could be a genetic link that makes certain people more likely to develop it.
An article published in Allied Academics examined the frequency of fissured tongue among people in South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, only 0.6% of the population had fissured tongue, compared to almost 30.6% in Israel. Researchers believe this could be evidence of a genetic factor. However, the study in South Africa included children and therefore does not reflect the entire population. But the idea that a genetic component may play a role in the development of fissured tongue remains a possibility.
Fissured tongue often first appears in childhood. However, this condition usually becomes more pronounced as the person ages.
Fissured tongue may have links to other conditions, including:
– geographic tongue
– orofacial granulomatosis
– trisomy 21
– pustular psoriasis
– Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (a neurological condition associated with facial paralysis and swelling of the upper lip and face).
– Malnutrition can also be the cause of a fissured tongue. But this is less common.
Fissured Tongue Treatment
A fissured tongue usually does not require treatment. Often it has no symptoms, and a person may not know they have it until the dentist discovers it during a routine checkup. Fissured tongue complications usually occur if food or other debris gets stuck in the grooves. If this happens, it can cause irritation or allow bacteria to grow. Bacteria trapped in cracks can cause bad breath or promote tooth decay. In extreme cases, Candida albicans can infect very deep furrows. Anyone who develops this complication will need to be treated with a topical antifungal medication.
The best prevention against fissured tongue is to practice good oral hygiene, including cleaning your mouth at least twice a day and visiting the dentist regularly.
When to see a dentist
In most cases, fissured tongue does not cause any symptoms, so there is no need to visit the dentist for this purpose. A person should not visit a dentist unless they are in pain. However, it is advisable to visit the dentist twice a year for routine care. You should also consult the dentist in case of pain or discomfort in the mouth that does not go away.
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Sudarshan, R., et al. (2015). Newer classification system for fissured tongue: An epidemiological approach.
Yarom N, Cantony U, Gorsky M (2004) Prevalence of fissured tongue, geographic tongue and median rhomboid glossitis among Israeli adults of different ethnic origins. Dermatology 209: 88-94.
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