Fissured tongue is a usually benign variation in the structure of the tongue where the surface has one or more deep grooves. While the tongue itself should not present health problems to the patient, it can be a sign of an underlying condition that does require treatment. Some patients with fissured tongues also have a condition known as geographic tongue, where patches appear on the surface of the tongue and cause it to have an irregular appearance.
Certain genetic conditions are known to be associated with fissured tongue, including Down syndrome and Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, along with other disorders that cause abnormalities in facial structure. In other cases, it can be passed on as a genetic trait without any associated disorder. The fissures in the tongue may become more noticeable with age, as the tongue grows and the rest of the patient's mouth develops.
This natural variation does not require any medical treatment. Patients with fissured tongue may need to exercise more care in their oral hygiene regimens to make sure the tongue is thoroughly cleaned. The fissure can create a warm, moist refuge for oral bacteria and other microorganisms. Regularly brushing of the tongue and using appropriate oral care products like mouthwash can help reduce the development of bacteria colonies and may also prevent unpleasant oral odors.
Parents who notice a fissured tongue in a child not known to have any genetic disorders and who doesn't have a family history of tongue fissures may want to discuss the situation with a pediatrician. The doctor can evaluate the patient to determine if the tongue is part of a medical issue. It may not be, in which case the parents do not need to take any additional steps. If the patient also has geographic tongue or other oral anomalies, these may simply be signs of random variations that occurred during fetal development.
In cases where the fissures are deep or cause discomfort, it may be possible to correct the fissured tongue surgically. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon can evaluate the patient and determine if he is a good candidate for surgery. In the surgery, the doctor will close the fissures and smooth the texture and appearance of the tongue. Healing time tends to be rapid, as the tongue grows quickly. For the first few days the patient needs to be careful while eating and drinking to protect the tongue and the suture site.