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Fissured tongue

Characteristics of fissured tongue

A fissured tongue, also called lingua plicata, or a plicated or scrotal tongue, will have cracks, grooves and fissures. This condition is usually harmless, but should be checked by a doctor or dentist to make sure.

A fissured tongue may have:

  • Cracks, grooves or clefts appear on the top and sides of the tongue.
  • These fissures only affect your tongue.
  • Fissures on the tongue vary in depth, but they may be as deep as 6mm.
  • Grooves may connect with other grooves, separating the tongue into small lobes or sections.

Unless debris builds up in these fissures, you are unlikely to have any symptoms.

Fissures may first appear during childhood. However, fissures are more common in adults. Just as wrinkles can deepen with age, fissures can also become more pronounced as you get older. If you have regular dental check-ups, your dentist will be able to identify the fissures on your tongue. This is how most fissures are found.

Conditions associated with fissured tongue

Up to about 5% of people have a fissured tongue to some degree. A fissured tongue may affect men slightly more often than women.

Because a fissured tongue can cluster in families, it may be genetically inherited. Although other causes of fissured tongue are unknown, it may appear along with other conditions such as these:

  • Geographic tongue, also known as benign migratory glossitis (BMG). This benign condition often shows up along with fissured tongue. It may cause no symptoms other than sensitivity to hot and spicy foods.
  • Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome. This is a rare condition. It not only causes a fissured tongue, but also lip or facial swelling and paralysis in the face (Bell's palsy) that may come and go.
  • Down’s syndrome. Fissured tongue occurs in as many as eight out of 10 children with the chromosomal disorder Down’s syndrome.

It is not common to need a biopsy of a fissured tongue.

Treatment of fissured tongue

If a fissured tongue causes any symptoms, your dentist may encourage you to brush your tongue. This may help remove debris that has built up in deep fissures, causing irritation.

In almost all cases, though, no treatment is needed. However, if you have symptoms or any complications of Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, your dentist or doctor may recommend that you see a specialist.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 27, 2014

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