Geographic tongue, also known as benign migratory glossitis or oral erythema migrans is a harmless condition that affects the surface of your tongue. Although geographic tongue may look scary to you, it doesn’t cause any serious health issues and is not usually associated with any infections or cancer. But who wants that scary looking white patches and cracks no matter how harmless they are.

Who gets geographic tongue?

About 2-3% of the world population is affected by geographic tongue. It can affect any age groups but commonly seen in adults. Females are twice more likely to be affected than males.

What causes geographic tongue?

The exact cause of geographic tongue is not known, although vitamin B deficiency and infection (viral, bacterial or fungal) may be involved. It has also been associated with psoriasis and fissured tongue. Few cases tend to run in families too. Although not a definitive cause, hot and spicy foods tend to aggravate the condition. This condition is less commonly seen in smokers.

Signs and symptoms of geographic tongue

Although some patients may have no symptoms at all, burning sensation and irritation of the tongue are common, especially with hot or spicy foods. In women the discomfort may worsen during menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Although the lesions are localized to the tongue, they can also arise elsewhere in the mouth.

Geographic Tongue

Geographic Tongue

Some common signs and symptoms are listed below:

  • Irregular red patches surrounded by white line giving map-like appearance of the tongue.
  • Patches tends to move to different areas of the tongue at different times.
  • Burning sensation and irritation of the tongue

There are several other conditions that can have similar signs and symptoms, so it is very necessary to visit the dermatologist or oral specialist and confirm the case. Some other conditions that may resemble geographic tongue are listed below:

  • Oral candidiasis
  • Stomatitis
  • Lichen planus
  • Fissured tongue
  • Tongue cancer
  • Chemical burn
  • Plague psoriasis
Geographic tongue treatment

Geographic tongue will get better after few weeks or months. If you have irritation or burning sensation you may take over the counter painkillers and topical mouth paint that can ease the pain and discomfort. Avoid foods and drinks that make your symptoms worse like acidic, hot and spicy foods and drinks. Visiting a doctor or oral specialist is the best way to rule out other serious conditions. Your doctor will diagnose the condition and prescribe medications accordingly.

Common medications used in symptomatic geographic tongue

  • Over the counter painkillers
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Corticosteroids paint applied directly on the lesion
  • Zinc supplements and vitamin B complex
  • Mouth washes containing anesthetic agents

For symptoms to subside quickly you may need to limit acidic, hot and spicy foods or any other substances that irritates you. Some toothpaste contains additives, whitening agents that may irritate the lesion, if this is the case, avoid it.

Geographic tongue cure
There is no cure for geographic tongue, most tends to subside by themselves and never come or may come and go; medications are targeted in relieving the pain and discomfort.

Can geographic tongue turn into cancer?
There has been a major concern about the tongue cancer and geographic tongue but the good news is that geographic tongue usually don’t turn into cancer.