Scalloped Tongue (Wavy Tongue): Causes and How to Get Rid of It

What Causes Scalloped Tongue (Wavy Tongue) and How to Get Rid of It
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Our tongue is an essential organ that we need to speak, eat, and taste food. Your tongue can also tell a lot about your general health. If your tongue becomes unusually enlarged (medical name is macroglossia) it may develop a wavy pattern on the edges and this is called a scalloped tongue. The rippled effect around the sides of your tongue is caused by the enlarged or swollen tongue pressing against your teeth. This condition is also referred to as a wavy tongue, crenated tongue, pie crust tongue, and crenulated tongue.

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If your tongue becomes enlarged for any reason it will push against the surrounding teeth creating a scalloping effect. Depending on the severity of the swelling, you may have pronounced ridges on the sides of your tongue, visible teeth marks, or indentations on the tongue edges.

A scalloped tongue isn’t a disease in itself but an indication of an underlying health condition. For example, low thyroid hormone levels, sleep apnea, vitamin deficiencies, and anxiety are all known to cause tongue scalloping.

This article explores the many different causes of scalloped tongue and what this means for your general health. You will also find out how to get rid of the wavy pattern around the edges of your tongue and when the condition is serious enough to call a doctor.

Causes of Scalloped Tongue and How to Get Rid of It

In many cases, the only way to get rid of a scalloped tongue is to treat the underlying cause. The following information will help you know what could be causing your tongue to swell and push against your teeth.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a very common cause of tongue scalloping. Hypothyroidism is a condition when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. A lack of thyroid hormone in your body can cause your metabolism to slow down, increase weight gain, and make your face and eyelids appear puffy.

The Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism reported that thyroid disorders can affect the tongue. Among the effects of not having enough thyroid hormone is a large protruding tongue (macroglossia).1 This swelling can push the edges of the tongue against the teeth causing a wavy pattern.

Doctors in Japan have described the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease, which is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. They report that hypothyroidism causes swelling around the face and an enlarged tongue.2

A doctor will be able to check for signs of hypothyroidism by taking a blood test. However, there are many ways to help your thyroid produce enough hormone naturally and you can read about then in my article about natural remedies to boost thyroid function naturally.

In some cases your family doctor can treat and monitor your condition, but in some situations you may need to consult with an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in treating hormonal imbalances.

Temporomandibular joint syndrome

Any problems in the muscles and joints around your jaw could cause a wavy and enlarged tongue. Problems with your jaw are called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome and can cause pain in your jaw, jaw clicking when you open your mouth, and changes in your bite. TMJ dysfunction can also lead to changes in your oral cavity and cause problems with your tongue.

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For example, dental researchers found that temporomandibular joint dysfunction causes scalloping of the tongue, tooth sensitivity, and muscle tenderness and pain.3

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the best ways to treat TMJ disorders are to eat soft foods, avoid yawning wide and avoid chewing a gum.4 This will cause less irritation in your mouth and should help to reduce tongue swelling and scalloping.

Spleen QI deficiency

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) associates spleen disorders with a scalloped tongue. Your spleen helps to filter blood and is connected with your immune system. It can become enlarged because of infections and damaged through injury.

According to the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, a swollen or scalloped tongue is one of the symptoms of a spleen QI deficiency.5 Other symptoms are digestive issues, easy bleeding, achy muscles, and tiredness.

For more information on how your spleen affects your health, please read my article on the signs and symptoms of spleen disease that you shouldn’t ignore.

Sleep apnea

A scalloped tongue could be a sign that you suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common chronic disorder affecting sleep patterns and is associated with loud snoring and shallow breathing. Because the symptoms of sleep apnea happen during the night, it can be difficult to know if you have this sleeping disorder. So, if you have a wavy tongue that is frequently enlarged, you should talk with your doctor about sleep apnea.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology published a study showing that tongue scalloping is connected with obstructive sleep apnea. They said that a scalloped tongue and snoring patterns are useful indicators in diagnosing abnormal sleep patterns.6

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An enlarged tongue with wavy edges is one of the signs of sleep apnea. You could also try one of my 7 ways to stop snoring naturally if your sleep disorder is affecting your partner.

Mineral or vitamin deficiency

Tongue swelling with ridges on the sides could indicate a mineral or vitamin deficiency. For example, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause your tongue to swell, make it look very red, and give a smooth appearance on its surface.

Medline Plus reports that the medical name for a swollen tongue is glossitis. This can be caused by certain vitamin deficiencies, as well as hormonal factors, or allergic reactions. You may also have pain along with tongue swelling.7

According to Dr. Lawerance A. Mark on Medline Plus, usually, the tongue swelling goes away when the cause of the problem is addressed. Dr. Mark advises that you see a doctor if your tongue is swollen for more than 10 days. Also, if your tongue is severely scalloped or blocks your airways, you should seek medical advice immediately.7

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Anxiety

In some cases, anxiety can cause your tongue to become enlarged and have a rippled effect along the sides. Tongue scalloping is just one of the ways that stress and anxiety affect your body. For example, extreme anxiety can cause you to clench or press your tongue against your teeth. If this happens over a long period of time or becomes a habit, you may notice ridges along the side of your swollen tongue.

It’s interesting because a study published in the West Indian Medical Journal reported that cases of scalloped tongue were much higher among psychiatric patients.8 Many people with psychological disorders also frequently suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, which is another cause of tongue scalloping.

Other Causes of a Scalloped Tongue

There are some other conditions which can cause your tongue to swell and, depending on the severity, cause wavy edges around your tongue.

According to MedicineNet, some of the reasons for an enlarged tongue are:9

  • Allergies can cause the tongue to swell, become enlarged, or have bumps on it. The allergies could be caused by food, medications, or an insect sting.
  • Injury to your tongue could cause swelling for a short period of time. If your tongue becomes very swollen and starts pressing on your teeth, you will probably have a wavy tongue.
  • Medications can cause side effects that include swelling of the tongue and possibly a rippled effect along its edges.
  • Inherited causes of macroglossia (unusually enlarged tongue) may include various syndromes such as Down syndrome and Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrom (BWS).

Scalloped Tongue (Wavy Tongue) – When to See a Doctor

Sometimes the tongue can become so swollen that it becomes a life-threatening emergency. Dr. Lawerence A. Mark says that you should contact your doctor about a swollen tongue in the following circumstances:7

  • The swelling of the tongue is so severe that it blocks your airways.
  • You have a scalloped tongue for more than 10 days.
  • Normal activities like breathing, eating, speaking, and chewing cause problems.
  • The tongue swelling is very bad.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources:
  1. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Jul; 15(Suppl2): S113–S116.
  2. ItoHospital. Hashimoto’s disease.
  3. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2011 Jun;11(2):98-105.
  4. NIDCR. Less is often best in treating TMJ disorders.
  5. J Acup Mer Stud. 2014 April;7(2):76-82.
  6. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2005 Dec;133(6):966-71.
  7. MedlinePlus. Glossitis.
  8. West Indian Med J. 2012 Aug;61(5):549-54.
  9. MedicineNet. Tongue problems.
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