Geographic tongue is a harmless inflammation of the tongue covered with tiny, hairlike, pinkish-white bumps (papillae). These patches (lesions) give the tongue a map-like appearance which relates it to its name – geographic tongue. The lesions often heal in one area and then migrate to a different part of your tongue which makes it also known as benign migratory glossitis. It may occur in other areas of your mouth, as well.
Despite its appearance, you’ll be relieved to know that it is a harmless, benign condition that isn’t linked to any infection. There are no illnesses or cancers associated with it. Though there may be a slight pain, discomfort and burning sensations from time to time, which is caused by spicy or acidic food. Two other names for geographic tongue are benign migratory glossitis and erythema migrans.
The most significant signs of geographic tongue are smooth, irregular, and red patches on different parts of the tongue. These patches may:
✓ Have a light-colored border
✓ Appear in one area, and then move to another
✓ Come and go or change very quickly in days, weeks, months, or may last up to a year
You may actually be unaware that you have geographic tongue until your dentist diagnoses it during an oral exam.
The direct root cause of geographic tongue is still unknown, although research suggests that genetics and fissures may influence the development of the disorder.
In addition to genetics and fissured tongue, this disorder is also linked with other conditions such as psoriasis, allergies, emotional stress, juvenile diabetes, Reiter’s syndrome, and hormonal disturbances. However, no absolute link has been proven between geographic tongue and these conditions.
People who are unaware that they may have a geographic tongue may never be treated and still suffer no ill effects. Most cases of geographic tongue require no medical intervention.
However, if the patient can no longer bear the discomfort, a number of treatments may be considered such as:
✓ Anesthetic and antihistamine mouthwash
✓ Oral pain relievers
✓ Corticosteroid rinses
✓ Vitamin B and zinc supplements
These treatments are not well-proven and may lack proper research. People may not be able to tell if the treatment cured their condition – or if it did, symptoms may still return after some period of time. You may at least try limiting these substances or avoid them completely to lessen pain and discomfort associated with geographic tongue:
✓ Hot, spicy, acidic, overly salty and dry foods
✓ Toothpaste with additives, whitening ingredients, bleaching agents, or heavy flavoring (toothpaste for sensitive teeth is a better choice)
With geographic tongue, a person will live an otherwise normal life. The appearance of the tongue and mild discomfort are often the biggest concerns a person may have. In most cases, the patches eventually clear with no intervention.
In most cases, any pain or discomfort will get better without treatment. But if you have severe, ongoing pain, medication is encouraged. Seeing a dentist or doctor is the best way to rule out a more serious problem.