Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue is a non-serious inflammatory condition in which a changing pattern of smooth red patches, with a raised margin that can be white, yellow or grey, appear on the tongue.

Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue also know as erythema migrant and  benign migratory glossitis, is a benign condition  of unknown cause characterized by presence of small round to irregular elevated  areas of red and slightly tender lesions surrounded by  white to slightly yellowish borders. Lesions are usually found on the dorsal and lateral surface of the tongue although in rare cases similar lesions have been described in the floor of the mouth, the cheek area, and the gingiva (gum tissue). When observed over a period of days to weeks one will notice changes in the pattern that occur on the dorsum of the tongue.  As one area of the tongue heals another area is affected.

Geographic tongue occurs in approximately 2 percent of the United States population, affecting women slightly more often than men. Children can also develop these lesions.  Most individuals with geographic tongue are asymptomatic.  However, in some cases, irritation and tenderness is noted especially when alcoholic beverages and spicy foods are consumed.  Severity of symptoms varies with time and is often an indicator of the intensity of lesion activity.  Lesions will periodically vanish and recur without any reason.  Various theories have attempted to link this condition to emotional stress and fungal or bacterial infection. Correlation has been found between geographic tongue and psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, Reiter’s syndrome, and atopy.

The cause of geographic tongue has not been clearly identified. It is considered to be an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to certain factors to which the tongue is exposed.

Treatment of Geographic Tongue

Treatment is usually not required because the lesions are self-limiting and asymptomatic.  If the lesions become symptomatic treatment is usually geared toward controlling the symptoms.  Topical steroids, especially ones containing an anti fungal agent may be useful.  Lesions will usually disappear after several days but occasionally can last for a few weeks.