Cracked tongue is a condition marked by grooves or cracks in the tongue. The condition also has several other names, such as scrotal tongue, furrowed tongue, lingua plicata and grooved tongue. In most cases, people are born with it, but it may not become very noticeable until they grow older. Though it may be annoying or unsightly, cracked tongue is usually considered harmless.
The most obvious symptoms of cracked tongue are fissures or grooves in the surface of the tongue. In some cases, the tongue may appear wrinkled rather than cracked. If you have this condition, you may notice many different grooves in the tongue, or you may have a prominent groove that runs down the center of the tongue and has other grooves extending from it in different directions.
Usually, cracked tongue will cause no ill effects besides the appearance of grooves in the tongue. However, you may experience some discomfort when eating spicy foods. This occurs when spicy or high-acid foods or drinks make their way into deep grooves in the tongue, producing a burning sensation. Additionally, bacteria may grow in very deep grooves, and tiny bits of food may get stuck there. The result of this may be foul-smelling breath and/or infections of the mouth, including those that are fungal in nature.
Most often, people are born with cracked tongue, and the cause is often unknown in those cases. According to Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM), it may be genetic in nature. Less often, infections or nutritional deficiencies cause a cracked tongue. The condition is also more likely to occur in people with certain health conditions, such as Down syndrome--a chromosomal disorder--and Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome--which affects the nervous system, causing paralysis and swelling of the face. The condition is also more likely to be diagnosed in people who have geographic tongue, which is characterized by bald patches on the tongue.
Though you may notice cracks or grooves in your tongue, there's no way to be sure of whether you have cracked tongue without seeing a medical professional. Usually, a dentist diagnoses the condition during a routine dental examination. Some people initially ask their dentists to examine their tongues because they experience discomfort in the area. According to eMedicine.com, cracked tongue typically affects 5 percent or fewer of people in the United States.
There is no known way to prevent or treat cracked tongue. The condition usually lasts a lifetime. If you have the condition and experience discomfort when eating or drinking, avoid the foods that cause the most problems. Also, practicing good tongue hygiene may help prevent infection.This can be as simple as buying a tongue scraper and cleaning your tongue with it on a daily basis. Tongue scrapers can usually be found in the dental hygiene section of drugstores and supermarkets.