Geographic Tongue: Causes, Symptoms And Care

Friends Looking at a Map on a Hike

Have you ever looked at your tongue in the mirror and thought it resembled a road map of Gauteng? Or perhaps, on another day, it looked more like the Garden Route... If so, you may have a condition called geographic tongue. There's no need to be alarmed – this benign condition is not a threat to your health.

Here are some interesting facts about this disorder (also referred to as migratory glossitis or wandering rash of the tongue) that you should know.

Geographic Tongue: Causes and Symptoms

The exact cause of migratory glossitis is unknown, but the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD) claims that the map-like appearance of the tongue is due to inflammation. Normally, the tongue is covered with a layer of tiny bumps called papillae. If, for some reason, any of these finger-like projections are missing, those areas of the tongue will become smooth and red with slightly raised borders. The affected areas can change daily in terms of size and location, presenting you with a different tongue each time you look at it.

Although geographic tongue can persist for weeks, the good news is that most cases cause no discomfort and require no treatment. For many people, the condition goes away on its own, but may return in the future.

Do I Need to See a Doctor for Geographic Tongue?

The National Institutes of Health's Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center says about 5 percent of people with geographic tongue suffer from pain or sensitivity, especially when eating spicy or acidic foods. If your tongue is painful, easily irritated by certain foods and drinks, or has become severely swollen (making it difficult to eat, speak or swallow), see your dentist for a diagnosis. The Mayo Clinic advises that you make an appointment with a dentist whenever you have a lesion on your tongue that doesn't go away within 10 days, to rule out anything serious.

Taking Care of Your Geographic Tongue

Should you experience pain, your doctor or dentist may recommend using anti-inflammatory medication to help alleviate discomfort. For milder burning or sensitivity issues, avoiding hot spicy foods and alcohol until the episode passes may be sufficient, says the National Institutes of Health.

Meticulous oral hygiene is always recommended, but pay special attention to your oral health if you have geographic tongue. This means brushing your teeth and tongue twice a day. And don't forget to floss daily. Swishing with a mouthwash will also help provide protection against germs, even after drinking and eating.

Risk Factors of Geographic Tongue

NORD reports that migratory glossitis occurs in about 3 percent of the population, with women being more prone to it than men. It also affects younger adults more frequently. The condition seems to run in families, so there may be a genetic link. People with a fissured tongue, a condition where the tongue is deeply grooved and has a wrinkled appearance, may also have a higher risk of developing migratory glossitis. This is also true for people with a vitamin B deficiency or suffering from psoriasis.

Although certain disorders often occur along with geographic tongue – hormonal disturbances, emotional stress, juvenile diabetes, allergies and Reiter's syndrome – there is no real proof that they play a role in causing the condition.

Geographic tongue cannot be prevented or cured. Remember to always keep your mouth clean, avoid irritating foods, and appreciate how special you are to have such a unique, harmless condition that few people have experienced!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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