Cracks in Tongue - Causes & Treatment for Fissured Tongue

Cracks in Tongue - Causes & Treatment for Fissured Tongue
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Table of Contents

  1. Causes of Tongue Crack
  2. Symptoms & Signs
  3. Cracks vs. Cuts
  4. Dehydration & your Tongue
  5. Treatment Options
  6. Preventing Cracked Tongue
  7. Fissured Tongue FAQs
  8. References

According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, about 5 percent of the U.S. population has cracks in their tongues. These are multiple shallow grooves, commonly known as fissures, that occur on the surface of your tongue.

The number, depth and size of these cracks differs from person to person, and sometimes they can look like a serious condition. Generally, though, it is not.

Doctors and dentists insist that the condition does not pose a health risk and can be controlled by a healthy oral care regimen.

Causes of Tongue Crack

Causes of Cracks in Tongue

Tongue fissures are a bit of a mystery. Clinicians don’t know definitively what causes them.

One study from 2016 links them to smoking, and others hint at a genetic cause, a condition that is hereditary.

At times, cracks can occur along with other health issues: malnutrition, geographic tongue, Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, and pustular psoriasis.


A study conducted in 2016 links fissures to a deficiency in vitamin B12. It found that a lack of B vitamins, zinc and iron can play a role in the development of grooves.

People with improperly balanced diets also stand a higher chance of wrestling with this condition.

Acid Reflux or General Indigestion
Other causes can include side effects from a prescription medication and untreated acid reflux.
Geographic Tongue

Physicians also look at an oral health issue is also known as benign migratory glossitis (BMG), or Geographic Tongue. This condition causes both smooth and raised patches on the tongue. \ \ BMG poses no major health concerns, but it can cause a sensitivity to spicy food and drinks.

Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome
Another potential cause is Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome, which is a sporadic neurological disorder. With this condition, however, a cracked tongue is only one symptom, along with facial swelling and paralysis on the face (Bell's Palsy).
Pustular Psoriasis

Pustular psoriasis is an inflammatory condition caused by an immune disorder. It affects the skin and joints.

Widespread skin inflammation results in small, white or yellow blisters or pimples. It’s common for someone with tongue cracks to experience these minor infections on their tongue.

Poor Oral Hygiene, Other Causes
Poor oral hygiene—not brushing and flossing your teeth and gargling daily, at a minimum—can cause tongues to develop cracks and even lesions.
In addition, researchers point to drug side effects as a possible cause for cracks, grooves and fissures.

Symptoms & Signs

Most of the time, a fissured tongue presents with no symptoms beyond appearance. It is usually painless, and it does not bleed or drain.

The most obvious signs, of course, are the cracks themselves. Cracks can vary by:

  • Number
  • Size
  • Direction (horizontal, vertical, or branching)
  • Depth

In most cases, a fissured tongue appears as though the tongue is split. Multiple fissures may appear on the tongue surface, and people may have significant cracks that are visible. The mid part of your tongue is commonly affected, but issues may also be evident in other parts.

A fissured tongue is neither harmful nor contagious. In some cases, there are no symptoms at all. 

But one symptom of the condition is over-sensitivity when eating and drinking. Nerves on the tongue are more exposed, and foods that aren’t generally thought to be too cold or too hot can be difficult to handle.

Cracks vs. Cuts on the Tongue

When people refer to cuts on their tongue, they are (in most cases) referring to cracks on their tongue (a fissured tongue). The cracks from a fissured tongue can appear (and feel) like small cuts, but they are grooves formed by a fissured tongue or geographic tongue. These grooves usually range from 2 to 6 mm in depth

When healthy, your tongue will be pink and moist. Tiny mucous membranes called papillae cover the tongue’s surface. Some contain taste buds, and others just help with daily activities like speaking and gripping food. 

A fissured tongue occurs when there is irregular papillae growth or loss. This can cause inflammation, pain, and sensitivity.

Dehydration & your Tongue

While dehydration alone isn’t the cause of tongue cracks, it may be a factor. Dehydration may cause your tongue to become rough and dry. 

A dry tongue may be more prone to cracks and irritation. Dehydration can also weaken your immune system, increasing the risk of tongue fissures and making it harder to heal from them.

Dehydration can contribute to tongue issues like fissures and geographic tongue in other ways, or it can cause complications with these issues. 

A dry tongue is a symptom of dry mouth. If you have dry mouth, you are not producing enough saliva. Saliva production is key to oral health, as it helps to combat harmful bacteria (including plaque) and neutralizes the enamel-damaging acids created by bacteria. Keeping your mouth and tongue hydrated will help improve your oral health and may help to prevent tongue fissures.

If you already have a fissured or geographic tongue, it’s important to ensure that you’re not dehydrated and don’t have a dry tongue. The grooves caused by a fissured tongue can become hotspots for bacteria and food particles to hide. If left lodged in the grooves, the bacteria and particles can result in problems like bad breath, decay, and even infection.

Treatments for Tongue Cracks

No strict medical treatment is necessary for tongue cracks because they are rarely a health risk.

However, clinicians recommend the starting point for treatment be a regular and sound oral hygiene. These are some of the top suggestions:

  • Make sure to clean the top surface of your tongue meticulously using a toothbrush to remove food debris from the fissures. This prevents lesions that cause more irritation and discomfort. It also is recommended to prevent cavities.
  • Use a well-reviewed toothbrush — and one that works for you. Some people can handle medium and hard bristles, while other people must stick to soft bristles.
  • Dentists often recommend electric toothbrushes for consistent cleaning.
  • Reach out to your dentist to help you find the dental care products that are best suited for you.

Preventing Future Cracked Tongue Issues

Here are ways to help prevent the development of a cracked tongue:

  • Eat a balanced diet. That means a mix of proteins, vegetables, grain, fruits and nuts. Foods that have vitamins, zinc and iron will help you improve your oral health.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Taking time to clean your teeth, gums and tongue will go a long way toward improving your oral hygiene. Dentists recommend spending at least two minutes twice a day brushing your teeth.
  • Scrape your tongue. This helps small particles of food from collecting in your mouth, which can lead to excess growth of bacteria.
  • Avoid spicy foods and drinks. This is especially true if you already know that you’re prone to developing a cracked tongue.
  • Eat cooler. If you are served a meal that is piping hot, let it cool down before you dig in.

If you experience tongue fissures accompanied by lesions (painful or not), discuss them with your dentist or primary care physician. One or both can help you understand the underlying cause, provide a detailed treatment plan, and help you find relief.

Fissured Tongue Frequently Asked Questions

Can dehydration cause a cracked tongue?
Dehydration will make your tongue dry, sticky and white (a condition known as white tongue), but it cannot cause a cracked tongue. When dehydrated, most people experience dryness and rough textures on their lips, whereas the tongue becomes sticky but doesn’t crack. It’s possible that lips and the skin surrounding the mouth may appear dry, chafed and cracked.
How long does it take to heal?
Cracked or fissured tongues don’t always require medical treatment, and the condition resolves itself after a while. How long it takes to heal depends on how often you brush, floss and gargle. The more cleaning you do, the faster the healing time. Regular tongue scraping can also improve the recovery rate.


Fissured Tongue. (May 13, 2015). American Academy of Oral Medicine.

Fissured Tongue. (June 2005) Vanessa Ngan, DermNet NZ.

Effects of Tongue Cleaning on Bacterial Flora in Tongue Coating and Dental Plaque: A Crossover Study. (January 2014). BMC Oral Health.

The Tongue: A Window to the Other Organs. (May 2021). RDH Magazine

What Are Filiform Papillae? (November 2022). Colgate. 

Dehydrated Tongue? What Your Mouth Is Telling You. (November 2022). Colgate. 

Stay Well-Hydrated for a Strong Immune System. (April 2020). University of California, Irvine. 

What is a Fissured Tongue? (November 2022). Colgate. 

Dry Mouth. (February 2018). Mayo Clinic. 

Newer Classification System for Fissured Tongue: An Epidemiological Approach. (September  2015). Journal of Tropical Medicine.

Predictive Value of Fissured Tongue in Functional Dyspepsia Combined with Depression. (June 2019). Gastroenterology Research and Practice.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.