If you like to stick your tongue out at yourself in the mirror while brushing your teeth—or perhaps for no reason at all—you may have noticed your tongue is not totally smooth. It may have some crevices and cracks that make it look like worn pavement.
Is this normal? Does it affect taste? What causes it?
According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, a cracked tongue is known as a fissured tongue. The grooves are usually found on the middle third of the dorsal (top) portion of the organ and can be either shallow or deep. Often, one large middle crack splinters off into smaller cracks. The AAOM estimates 5 percent of the population has these fissures, though other estimates put it as high as 20 percent.
Is it evidence of a genetic mutation? That’s one thing science isn’t sure about. While it may develop or become more pronounced with age, it’s not known to either cause or signal any kind of health problem aside from the potential for halitosis, or bad breath. Because the tongue’s surface isn’t completely smooth, food debris can become trapped in the grooves, requiring some extra attention when performing oral hygiene routines. The deeper the grooves, the more easily food can become lodged. Brushing the tongue with a toothbrush or tongue cleaner—a stiffer brush that can easily remove particles—is recommended.
Fissured tongue is also associated with another peculiar oral mystery—geographic tongue. It’s a catchier name for benign migratory glossitis, where red areas surrounded by a white border appear on the top and sides of the tongue. The spots lack papillae, the protrusions commonly seen on the tongue that help protect it. The size of these areas can vary, and while there’s no known cause, some believe geographic tongue can be triggered by stress or health conditions like diabetes. Roughly 1 percent to 2.5 percent of the population can sport the condition. Like fissured tongue, it’s essentially harmless, though the affected areas may occasionally feel irritated.
Though the sight of fissured or geographic tongue—or both—can be a little unsettling, there’s usually no cause for concern. You can always ask your dentist to take a closer look.