If you've ever noticed small, deep grooves or cracks on your tongue, you may be wondering what causes them. These cracks, also known as tongue fissures, can appear on the surface of the tongue and can vary in size and depth.
They may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain, discomfort, or a burning sensation. The good news is that a fissured tongue is not necessarily dangerous or bad, but it can lead to some unwanted side effects.
What Causes Cracks in Tongue to Appear?
There are several common conditions associated with cracked tongues or a fissured tongue. While there is not one exact cause, we do know of several closely linked conditions that increase a person's chances of developing fissured tongue.
One of the most common is geographic tongue, a condition where the tongue appears to have raw, map-shaped patches across the tongue surface (each with a defined white border.) Geographic tongue is also called "benign migratory glossitis" because of the way the map-shaped patches tend to move and shift over time.
Other conditions that may cause tongue fissures often include vitamin deficiencies, such as B12 and iron, anemia, and certain autoimmune disorders, such as psoriasis, eczema, or lichen planus. In fact, as many as 14% of people with psoriasis also exhibit symptoms of "scrotal tongue" or cracked tongue.
People with Down Syndrome are more likely to experience an enlarged tongue, which may increase their chances of a dry mouth and a dry, cracked tongue.
What Does a Fissured Tongue Look Like?
A cracked tongue can look like it has one deep crevice down the middle of the top surface of your tongue. Or it may be that there are multiple horizontal cracks along the sides of your tongue's surface (usually on both sides.)
Healthy tongues are covered by thousands of tiny bumps called papillae. But when those papillae become damaged, or you have a condition like pustular psoriasis, it's common to see visible cracks form between them. Technically, there's not an open crack in your tongue; it's just that the papillae are split and pulling apart, similar to when they fall off with geographic tongue.
A visibly cracked tongue might mean you are at a health risk for situations such as dehydration, vitamin deficiencies, or skin conditions, so be sure to talk to your dentist about symptoms during your regular dental exams.
How to Clean Cracks in Tongue
It is important to clean a cracked tongue properly to avoid infection and promote healing. A soft toothbrush or a tongue scraper can be used to gently remove any debris or buildup. It is also important to maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly and using an antiseptic mouthwash. It's important to keep your mouth clean so that plaque and food debris don't accumulate inside your tongue cracks.
If you have a deep fissured tongue or geographic tongue, take care not to irritate the areas too hard with a toothbrush or tongue scraper. Doing so could damage or remove normal tongue papillae (the finger-like extensions on your tongue) and delay healing.
Without good oral hygiene, tongue conditions like these can contribute to bad breath. Good oral hygiene is essential both for your oral health as well as preventing halitosis.
Be sure to talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about the best way to remove plaque and food particles whenever a fissured tongue occurs. An extra-soft brush and water flosser are usually more than adequate for removing bacteria and food debris from these areas.
Treatment for Fissured Tongue
In most cases, treatment for cracked tongues is not necessary as they will heal on their own. However, if you experience pain, discomfort, or burning sensation or if they are accompanied by other symptoms, it is best to consult with a dentist or a doctor to rule out any underlying condition and to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
If your fissured tongue is linked to other conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, be sure to work with your medical specialist to discuss the best prescription or lifestyle changes to help manage overall symptoms.
Side effects such as a burning tongue can be reduced by avoiding spicy foods and using an alcohol-free mouthwash in lieu of harsh rinses. Hot and spicy foods or acidic foods can irritate fissured tongues, so be sure to pay careful attention to your diet on a daily basis. Be sure to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals like zinc, B2, B12, and iron. If possible, get those nutrients from fresh vegetables and meats, but supplements may also be helpful.
Dehydration, dry mouth, and mouth breathing may increase your chances of a cracked tongue and poor oral hygiene. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and trying to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth can be helpful.
In instances where an infection like lichen planus is suspected, your dentist may prescribe a topical antifungal medication, oral steroid, or other drugs. Always be sure to take medication as directed, even if your symptoms improve.
Is a fissured tongue a serious condition?
In most cases, a fissured tongue is not a serious condition and will heal on its own. However, it is important to consult with a dentist or doctor if you experience pain, discomfort, or other symptoms. Unless there is a fungal infection or facial swelling, treatment usually isn't required.
Can fissured tongues be treated?
In most cases, treatment is not necessary as they will heal on their own.
However, if you experience pain, discomfort, or other symptoms, it is best to consult with a dentist or a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions and to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor may prescribe oral medicine.
For example, if you have a skin condition such as psoriasis or eczema, your medical team will need to address these other health issues.
Are fissured tongues contagious?
Fissured tongues are not contagious and are not caused by an infection. However, they can become infected, red, and swollen if they are not cleaned properly.
Can fissured tongues be a sign of a more serious condition?
While most cases of fissured tongues are not serious, it is important to consult with a dentist or doctor if you experience pain, discomfort, or other symptoms or if the fissures are accompanied by other symptoms, as it may be a sign of an underlying condition.
What to do for a Fissured Tongue
Tongue fissures or cracked tongue can be caused by a variety of conditions, but most of the time, they heal on their own. Maintain good oral hygiene and consult with a dentist or a doctor if you have symptoms that last more than a few weeks.
Your dental team will provide you with advice as it relates to fissured tongue, geographic tongue, or other oral health issues related to your condition. If needed, they can also suggest supplements to help with vitamin deficiencies or cleaning the deep cracks.
Plan routine visits with your dentist twice a year. In addition to cleaning and examining your teeth, your dental team will also screen for other oral health issues, including those involving your tongue, lips, and overall oral cavity.