Top Causes of a Fissured Tongue

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fissured tongue causesA fissured tongue is when cracks or grooves appear on the surface of the tongue and said grooves can be shallow or deep.

A normal tongue is typically smooth without grooves or cracks. The grooves are most often found in the middle of the tongue on the upper surface and occur in approximately two to five percent of the population.

The tongue can look red and there might be pain and sensitivity, and yet some people may display none of these symptoms.

The causes of a fissured tongue are mostly unknown, but there are a few syndromes they are associated with. Men are more affected by this than women, and it can develop or become more prominent as people age.

Knowing about tongue health is important because the tongue can show signs of disease that many wouldn’t be aware of.

What Causes a Fissured Tongue?

A fissured tongue isn’t a harmful condition and neither is it contagious, although it is sensitive to certain foods and may bring some discomfort. The important thing is to remember to not allow food to get trapped in the cracks in your tongue.

  • Certain conditions, such as Down syndrome and Melkersson–Rosenthal syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by the swelling of the face and upper lip, and Bell’s palsy), can cause a fissured tongue. While not everyone with these syndromes will necessarily present with a cracked tongue, about 80% of people with Down syndrome do have a fissured tongue.
  • The causes of a cracked tongue are thought to possibly be genetic or hereditary because the condition is often observed in larger numbers within families when compared to the rest of the population.
  • Geographic tongue, known medically as benign migratory glossitis, can also cause a fissured tongue. It’s a harmless condition that usually causes no symptoms other than a sensitivity to hot and spicy foods. In geographic tongue, the papillae of the tongue, which are normally small and bumpy, become smooth and flat, and this change in texture also creates a change in color. The tongue, in a way, looks like a map. As papillae grow back, other areas may flatten, so the “map” changes, giving the illusion that the flat areas are moving.
  • A vitamin deficiency can also cause a fissured tongue. Your body will notify you when it’s lacking in certain nutrients, and this is one way it does so. Specifically, a fissured tongue can be caused by a vitamin B deficiency. There’s a good reason your doctor checks your tongue during annual visits!

fissured tongue causes

Conditions Associated with a Fissured Tongue

Approximately two to five percent of the U.S. population has a fissured tongue. Causes are unknown, but there are conditions associated with this it. This include:

Down syndrome:

Eighty percent of people with this chromosomal disorder have a fissured tongue.

Geographic tongue:

This condition is also referred to as benign migratory glossitis. Symptoms include flattened papillae which produce red patches on the tongue, giving it a map-like appearance (the red spots look like islands). There are no adverse effects other than some sensitivities to spicy and hot foods.

Melkersson–Rosenthal Syndrome:

A rare condition, this syndrome may present as swelling of the lips and face, and Bell’s palsy (a partial or complete paralysis of the face, which can be temporary).

The Risk of Developing a Fissured Tongue

The risk of getting a fissured tongue is increased by a number of factors:

  • It’s likely hereditary. A family history will increase the chances of developing it.
  • As person ages, the grooves/cracks can increase in depth.
  • Environmental factors can contribute to developing a fissured tongue.
  • Having Down syndrome increases the risk.
  • Individuals with Melkersson–Rosenthal syndrome have a higher chance of developing a fissured tongue.
  • Men get them more than women.

Preventing a Fissured Tongue

Below are methods of treatment for the causes of a fissured tongue, as long as those causes aren’t Down syndrome or Melkersson–Rosenthal syndrome; those conditions cannot be reversed at present.

  • Though a geographic tongue may be hard to prevent, if it does happen you can stop it from getting any worse or making you more uncomfortable by avoiding hot and spicy food, and using a toothpaste with few additives, whitening agents, or flavorings.
  • If a vitamin deficiency causes a fissured tongue, it’s best to see a doctor or naturopathic doctor to help you determine which vitamins you’re lacking, how much to increase them by, and whether that should be done through food, supplementation, or both.

Read Next:

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Fissured Tongue,” The American Academy of Oral Medicine web site, last reviewed May 13, 2015; http://www.aaom.com/fissured-tongue, last accessed April 27, 2016.
“What Causes Fissured Tongue? 2 Possible Conditions,” Healthline web site; http://www.healthline.com/symptom/fissured-tongue, last accessed April 27, 2016.
“Vitamin Deficiencies and Cracked Tongues,” Livestrong web site;
http://www.livestrong.com/article/504289-vitamin-deficiencies-and-cracked-tongues/, last accessed April 27, 2016.
“Fissured Tongue,” Web MD web site;
http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/fissured-tongue, last accessed April 27, 2016.
“Fissured Tongue,” eMedical Hub web site; http://emedicalhub.com/fissured-tongue/, last accessed April 27, 2016.
“What Is Fissured Tongue?” ePain Assist web site; http://www.epainassist.com/face-mouth-throat/tongue-pain/fissured-tongue/, last accessed April 27, 2016.


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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »