Definition

What is geographic tongue?

Geographic tongue is the name of a condition that gets its name from its map-like appearance on the upper surface and sides of the tongue. It may occur in other areas of your mouth, as well.

You’ll be relieved to know that geographic tongue is a harmless, benign condition that isn’t linked to any infection or cancer. Two other names for geographic tongue are benign migratory glossitis and erythema migrans.

How common is geographic tongue?

Affecting about 1% to 3% of people, geographic tongue can show up at any age. However, it tends to affect middle-aged or older adults more often. It appears to be more common in women than in men. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of geographic tongue?

The common symptoms of geographic tongue are:

  • Smooth, red, irregularly shaped patches (lesions) on the top or side of your tongue
  • Frequent changes in the location, size and shape of lesions
  • Discomfort, pain or burning sensation in some cases, most often related to eating spicy or acidic foods

Many people with geographic tongue have no symptoms.

Geographic tongue can continue for days, months or years. The problem often resolves on its own but may appear again at a later time.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Geographic tongue is a minor — although sometimes uncomfortable — condition. However, lesions on the tongue may indicate other more-serious conditions of the tongue or diseases affecting the body in general. If you have lesions on the tongue that don’t resolve within 10 days, see your doctor or dentist.

Causes

What causes geographic tongue?

The cause of geographic tongue is unknown, and there’s no way to prevent the condition. There may be a link between geographic tongue and psoriasis and between geographic tongue and lichen planus. But more research is needed to better understand possible connections.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for geographic tongue?

There are many risk factors for geographic tongue, such as:

  • Family history. Some people with geographic tongue have a family history of the disorder, so inherited genetic factors may increase risk.
  • Fissured tongue. People with geographic tongue often have another disorder called fissured tongue, which has the appearance of deep grooves (fissures) on the surface of the tongue.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is geographic tongue diagnosed?

Your physician or dentist can usually make a diagnosis of geographic tongue based on an examination of your tongue and your signs and symptoms.

During the exam, your physician or dentist may:

  • Use a lighted instrument to check your tongue and mouth
  • Ask you to move your tongue around in various positions
  • Gently touch (palpate) your tongue to check for tenderness or unusual changes in the tongue’s texture or consistency
  • Check for signs of infection, such as fever or swollen lymph nodes in the neck

How is geographic tongue treated?

Geographic tongue typically doesn’t require any medical treatment. Although geographic tongue can sometimes cause tongue discomfort, it’s otherwise a harmless condition.

 

To manage discomfort or sensitivity, your doctor may recommend medications such as:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Mouth rinses with an anesthetic
  • Antihistamine mouth rinses
  • Corticosteroid ointments or rinses
  • Vitamin B supplementation, in some cases

Because these treatments haven’t been studied rigorously, their benefit is uncertain. Since the condition resolves on its own and has an unpredictable course, you may not be able to tell if the symptomatic treatments are actually working.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage geographic tongue?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with geographic tongue:

You may reduce discomfort associated with geographic tongue by avoiding or limiting substances that commonly aggravate sensitive oral tissues, such as spicy or acidic foods or beverages, as well as alcohol and tobacco.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 20, 2017 | Last Modified: July 20, 2017

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