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Geographic tongue


Disease: Geographic tongue Geographic tongue
Category: Genetic Diseases
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Disease Definition:

When someone's tongue gets a map-like or geographic appearance it means that they have the harmless (benign) condition known as geographic tongue. When parts of someone's tongue are missing the layer of small bumps called papillae, the distinct look of geographic tongue occurs, which causes irregularly shaped smooth, red patches to form on parts of the tongue, similar to a rash.


Geographic tongue does not cause any health problems and is not associated with infection or cancer, despite the fact that it looks alarming. Although geographic tongue can sometimes cause tongue discomfort and increased sensitivity to certain substances, however, it is usually painless. Also known as benign migratory glossitis, geographic tongue usually heals in one area and then moves or migrates to a different part of the tongue.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Some of the signs and symptoms of geographic tongue may be:


  • Tongue discomfort
  • Geographic or map-like appearance of the tongue
  • Soreness or a burning sensation that could get worse with hot, spicy or acidic foods.
  • Smooth and bright red patches of various shapes and sizes on the top surface of the tongue.


The change in a person's tongue’s appearance could be the only sign that they have geographic tongue. The patches of geographic tongue could be outlined by a raised white or cream-colored line or border. Within minutes or hours, the affected patches on the tongue could change in size, color or location, which although harmless, but could cause anxiety or fear. Over time, geographic tongue may come and go.


Although sometimes uncomfortable, geographic tongue is a minor condition. A person should see a doctor or a dentist in case their signs and symptoms persist for more than 10 days, in order to make sure that they don’t have a medical condition that is more serious.



Normally, the tongue’s upper surface is covered by small bumps called papillae. Due to loss of papillae on some parts of the tongue, geographic tongue occurs. However, the reason that makes a person's tongue lose papillae is still not clear. Genetics may play a role because this condition tends to run in families.



Some of the problems and complications that geographic tongue could be associated with or cause include:


  • Anxiety about the appearance of the tongue
  • Tongue discomfort
  • Sensitivity to cigarette smoke, spicy foods, acidic foods and some toothpaste.


Geographic tongue does not pose any threat to a person's health or cause any major health problems because it is a benign condition.


Despite the fact that geographic tongue can sometimes cause tongue discomfort, however, it is a harmless condition that usually requires no treatment. But if someone experiences ongoing or excessive pain, they should talk to a doctor. In order to reduce discomfort someone may be prescribed some of these medications:


  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Zinc supplements
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Mouth rinses with a topical anesthetic


These treatments have not been proved to be effective for everyone. Because geographic tongue usually gets better on its own within a few months, a person may think that an unproven treatment has worked.
Geographic tongue could come back after a period of remission, and it usually lingers for a year or more.


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