Updated on February 9, 2024
4 min read

Fissured Tongue

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What is a Fissured Tongue?

A fissured tongue has one or more noticeable grooves or small furrows on its top surface or sides. The fissures can be shallow or deep and mostly form near the middle of the tongue. 

This common, and typically harmless, condition is also known as:

  • Cracked tongue
  • Scrotal tongue
  • Plicated tongue

Is a Fissured Tongue Harmless?

A fissured or cracked tongue typically isn’t a major health risk, nor is it contagious.

A fissured tongue occurs in about 5% of the U.S. population. Scientists believe it’s just a variation of a normal tongue.

What is the Main Cause of a Fissured Tongue?

The exact cause of a fissured tongue is unknown. Research suggests it’s simply a variation of a normal tongue.1

People of all ages and genders can develop a fissured tongue. However, it’s more common among males.1 

Fissures can also be present at birth or develop later in life. Older adults with dry mouth often have more prominent fissures.

Symptoms of a Fissured Tongue

Characteristics of a fissured tongue include:

  • Multiple fissures or cracks on the tongue’s surface or sides
  • A prominent groove that runs down the tongue’s center, making it appear split lengthwise
  • Halitosis (bad breath) if food particles get trapped in the tongue fissures

The fissures can also vary widely in number, length, and depth. 

Fissured Tongue vs. Geographic Tongue

Fissured tongue and geographic tongue often occur together and may be related.1 Geographic tongue is a harmless condition that causes raised patches on the top and sides of your tongue. 

Also called benign migratory glossitis, the patches associated with a geographic tongue can look like a map and move around.

Signs and symptoms of geographic tongue include:

  • Red patches on the tongue that may have a raised, white border 
  • Patches may come and go over days, weeks, or months
  • Missing areas of normal tongue papillae (tiny bumps)
  • Mild pain or a burning sensation in response to certain substances

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Fissured Tongue
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How Do You Treat a Fissured Tongue?

A fissured or cracked tongue usually doesn’t require treatment. 

However, it’s essential to practice excellent oral hygiene and keep up with routine dental exams. Poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health issues that require treatment.

Oral Hygiene

Here’s how you can tailor your oral hygiene routine to reduce the symptoms of a cracked tongue:

  • Use mouthwash every day
  • Brush your tongue with your toothbrush to remove food debris from tongue cracks
  • Floss your teeth before bed
  • Visit the dentist at least two times a year for dental cleanings 
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dry mouth
  • Chew on fennel seeds to keep your mouth hydrated

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes can also help, especially if your tongue feels irritated or hurts. Acidic, salty, hot, and spicy foods cause the most problems.

If vitamin deficiencies cause a cracked tongue, evaluate your diet and consider taking supplements. 

Conditions Associated with a Fissured Tongue

A fissured tongue may be related to another underlying condition, such as:

  • Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome — This rare neurological disorder causes lip and facial swelling, facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), and a fissured tongue.
  • Down syndrome — Many people with chromosomal disorders have fissured tongues.
  • Sjogren’s syndrome — This autoimmune disorder causes the body to attack its moisture glands, including the salivary glands.

In rare cases, a fissured tongue can be related to:

  • Orofacial granulomatosis — A rare condition that causes swelling in the mouth and lips.
  • Malnutrition — A condition resulting from vitamin deficiencies.
  • Psoriasis (especially pustular psoriasis) — A skin disease that causes red, scaly, and itchy patches.

What a Fissured Tongue Looks Like (With Pictures)

Diagnosing a Fissured Tongue

Most people receive a diagnosis of a fissured tongue during a routine dental exam. Your dentist will examine your tongue and ask about any symptoms. 

Additional testing may be necessary to determine whether the fissures are related to an underlying cause.

Outlook and Prognosis

Fissured tongue is a benign condition that’s typically asymptomatic. It’s considered a variant of normal tongue structure.

Good oral hygiene and routine dental care can help prevent symptoms and pain that may occur if food particles build up in the fissures.

Summary

Fissured tongue involves deep grooves or crevices on the top or sides of the tongue. There can be one fissure or many. Fissures are usually asymptomatic unless food debris accumulates and causes bad breath or discomfort.

Fissured tongue is also known as a scrotal or plicated tongue. It’s not the same as geographic tongue, although these common conditions often occur together.

Treatment may not be necessary. However, regular dental exams and teeth cleanings can keep oral health issues at bay.

Last updated on February 9, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Radfar, L. “Fissured Tongue.” The American Academy of Oral Medicine, 2015.
  2. Assimakopoulos, D, et al. “Benign Migratory Glossitis or Geographic Tongue: An Enigmatic Oral Lesion.” The American Journal of Medicine, 2002.
  3. Redman, RS. “Nutritional Deficiencies and Geographic Tongue.” Journal of Chronic Diseases, 1964.  
  4. Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2022.
  5. Sheetal, A. “Malnutrition and Its Oral Outcome – a Review.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 2013.
  6. Sudarshan, R, et al. “Newer Classification System for Fissured Tongue: An Epidemiological Approach.” Journal of Tropical Medicine, 2015.
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