In most cases, geographic tongue does not require medical treatment. Although the condition can cause discomfort, it does not pose serious health risks. Medications that may be recommended to manage symptoms of geographic tongue include:
- Topical gels
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Mouth rinses that contain an anesthetic
- Mouth rinses that contain antihistamines
- Ointments or rinses containing corticosteroids
- Vitamin B supplementation, in certain cases
Because these therapies have not been subjected to rigorous research, however, it is uncertain how effective they are. Geographic tongue can also resolve on its own, so it can be difficult to tell whether the treatments are working.
What is geographic tongue?
Geographic tongue is an inflammatory disorder that affects the surface of your tongue. Your tongue is generally covered by papillae, which are small, pinkish-white projections that resemble bumps. With geographic tongue, these papillae are missing on certain areas, causing smooth, red patches with slightly elevated borders.
Patches may appear in different areas of the tongue and move from one area to another. The condition is also known as benign migratory glossitis.
What causes geographic tongue?
There is no known cause for geographic tongue, although several factors may be involved, including:
None of these factors, however, have been definitively linked to geographic tongue.
There may be a link between geographic tongue and psoriasis, which is an autoimmune skin condition. Patients who suffer from psoriasis have been shown to have a higher incidence of geographic tongue. Some believe that a geographic tongue is a type of oral psoriasis.
What are symptoms of geographic tongue?
Geographic tongue is characterized by island-shaped lesions that give the tongue an appearance similar to that of a map. These lesions can manifest themselves on the top and sides of the tongue. They have a jagged and uneven appearance, and there is occasionally a white border or edge around them.
Lesions may be painless and generally do not pose any risks. They are not a sign of cancer, infection, or any other significant medical condition. Instead, the irregularly shaped dots are an indication that inflammation is damaging the surface of your tongue.
The following are some possible signs and symptoms of a geographic tongue:
- Lesions that are velvety smooth, bright red, and have an unusual form and location on the top or side of the tongue
- Frequent changes in the position, size, and contour of lesions
- Discomfort, pain, or burning when eating acidic or spicy foods
If symptoms do occur, they may last for many days, months, or even years. Geographic tongue will often go away on its own but may recur in the future.
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Cleveland Clinic. Geographic Tongue. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21177-geographic-tongue
National Organization for Rare Disorders. Geographic Tongue. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/geographic-tongue/
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