What Is Fissured Tongue?

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Stick your tongue out in the mirror. Do you see any deep grooves or cracks? If so, fear not. You may have a common condition known as a fissured tongue.


What Does a Healthy Tongue Look Like?


To understand what a fissured tongue is, it's important to get a good mental picture of a healthy tongue. A healthy tongue is pink in color and covered in tiny bumps called papillae. The majority of these papillae are filiform papillae, which fill in most of the top surface of the tongue. Other types of papillae include foliate, fungiform and circumvallate papillae. The various papillae can grow and change at different rates, often changing the appearance of the tongue's surface.


What Is a Fissured Tongue?


Fissured tongue is a descriptor used for the appearance of the tongue when there is a change in the growth of papillae on the tongue's top surface. According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), the condition, which results in the top of the tongue exhibiting tiny crevices, appears in about 5 percent of the U.S. population. These crevices can be few or many, narrow or wide and can vary in depth measurement. Sometimes, there is a prominent crack down the center of the tongue. While the exact cause is unknown, this condition is more common as a patient's age progresses, especially for older adults with dry mouth, notes the AAOM.


Other Tongue Conditions


Geographic tongue (clinically called benign migratory glossitis) and median rhomboid glossitis are two additional conditions that affect the appearance of the tongue. The National Organization for Rare Disorders states that geographic tongue occurs when the papillae are inflamed and form an abnormal pattern on the tongue that cause it to look like continents on the surface of the globe. The condition is closely associated with fissured tongue and may be hereditary. Median rhomboid glossitis occurs when the center section of the tongue is missing the papillae projections, explains the AAOM.


These conditions, as well as fissured tongue, are generally harmless and can be safely monitored with a routine assessment by a dental professional.


Should You Be Worried If You See Fissures?


If you ever stick your tongue out in the mirror and see some little deep cracks on the surface, it's likely they are nothing to worry about. Most often there is no pain associated with the condition, and it is not contagious. However, since the deeper grooves can collect more bacteria, fungal species and food particles, it is very important for patients who experience these cracked areas to adequately clean the tongue at least once a day. Incorporate this habit as part of your routine of brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily.


Plus, good oral hygiene reduces the risk of bad breath that can stem from the growth of microorganisms on the tongue. Routine visits to your dental professional can provide you with early detection of deviations from normal tongue papillae and other oral conditions.



This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.