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 fissured tongue.
To understand what a fissured tongue entails, it's important to get a good mental picture of a healthy tongue. A healthy tongue is pink in colour 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.
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 centre 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.
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, causing 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 centre 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.
If you ever stick your tongue out in the mirror and see some 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 germs, 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.
Moreover, 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.