Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue, also called benign migratory glossitis, is an inflammatory condition in which red patches appear on your tongue resembling continents on a globe.

The patches can appear on the top and sides of your tongue and sometimes other parts of your mouth. The shape and location of the patches can change day to day, but in general, these patches can last up to a year.

Geographic tongue is harmless, poses no health risk, and heals on its own. It isn’t contagious either, so it cannot be passed from one person to another.

The red patches come from the absence of the tiny bumps on your tongue called “papillae” that normally cover the entire surface of the tongue. These patches may:

  • Change in size, shape, color, and location
  • Appear and disappear over the course of up to a year
  • Have a border that is often white or light-colored

Though most cases are symptom-free, some symptoms may include a burning sensation or pain in your mouth, in which case it might be best to:

  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods, or dry, salted nuts
  • Avoid cigarette smoke and alcohol
  • Use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, without intense flavors or whitening additives

Though the cause is unknown, geographic tongue is thought to be associated with a vitamin B deficiency.

If you are experiencing persistent and severe discomfort, your doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Zinc supplement
  • Mouthwash with anesthetic
  • Corticosteroids for the tongue

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