January 16, 2007

Geographic Tongue


The tongue is normally covered with a layer of small bumps (papillae). Geographic tongue results when these projections are missing in certain areas of the tongue. The papillae loss creates smooth, red patches on the tongue, giving it a map-like, or geographic, appearance.

Geographic tongue can cause tongue discomfort and increased sensitivity to hot or spicy foods. But most people, besides seeing a change in their tongue's appearance, experience no other signs or symptoms.

Geographic tongue isn't triggered by an infection or another disease, and it's not related to mouth cancer. It doesn't have long-term health implications and occurs in otherwise healthy people. Though persistent and sometimes uncomfortable, geographic tongue resolves without treatment.

Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of geographic tongue include:
Smooth, bright red patches of various shapes and sizes on the top surface of the tongue.

Map-like, or geographic, appearance of the tongue
Patches that change size and location from day to day
Tongue discomfort
Soreness or burning sensation that may worsen with hot, spicy or acidic foods

Most people with geographic tongue notice the change in their tongue's appearance but don't experience any other problems. But some people encounter soreness and irritation, especially when eating certain foods.

The condition often cycles through periods of improvement followed by periods of increased irritation. Alcohol, tobacco and some types of toothpaste can aggravate geographic tongue.

Small bumps called papillae normally cover the tongue's upper surface. Geographic tongue results from the loss of papillae on certain areas of the tongue. Why the tongue loses papillae isn't known. The condition tends to run in families, so genetics may play a role.

Some people who have geographic tongue also have psoriasis, but doctors are unsure why this is the case. Also, geographic tongue often occurs in conjunction with fissured tongue — a condition in which deep grooves form on the tongue's surface. Fissured tongue, like geographic tongue, isn't a serious medical condition but at times can be seen with other skin conditions.

Other factors that may trigger geographic tongue include stress, hormonal changes and allergies.

When to seek medical advice
Geographic tongue is a minor — though sometimes uncomfortable — condition. See your doctor if your signs and symptoms persist for more than 10 days.

Your doctor can diagnose geographic tongue by visually inspecting the tongue. Additional tests, such as for allergies or yeast infection, may be needed to rule out other causes.

Medical treatment isn't necessary for geographic tongue. The condition usually resolves on its own within months, but it can last a year or more. After which time, the tongue returns to its normal appearance. Though sometimes uncomfortable, the condition is harmless.

If you're bothered by soreness or a burning sensation, it may help to avoid the following items that can aggravate the condition:

Hot or spicy foods
Acidic foods and beverages

In addition, some types of toothpaste that contain tartar-control additives, heavy flavoring or whitening agents may worsen geographic tongue. You may consider using toothpaste made for sensitive teeth.

If you're extremely bothered by soreness or irritation, talk to your doctor. He or she can prescribe medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs or topical analgesics, to help reduce your discomfort.

Adapted from: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research