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What is Geographic Tongue? How to Treat It?

For it being one of the most common maladies affecting the tongue, most people have never heard of Geographic tongue. After all, it sounds a bit like slang for a savvy speaker. This condition is common and relatively harmless. If you are unfamiliar with geographic tongue, seeing it appear out of nowhere can cause any parent to go into a frenzy.

The name “geographic tongue” refers to the map-like appearance of shapes. Some patches are completely smooth making your tongue look like it is covered in tiny, tongue-colored oceans. Most commonly this condition affects the sides of your tongue, but it can occur in other parts of your mouth as well (for answers to other common questions see

At any given time, geographic tongue affects between 1 to 5% of American’s in various age brackets. Like fibromyalgia, however, this disease is most commonly found in women. This condition looks super scary, but it will not harm you and it is mostly treatable. There is no indication that cancer, or other serious diseases, develop as a result.

Also known as erythema migrans or benign migratory glossitis, geographic tongue occurs when papillae (the bumps are your tongue) are missing from one are and crowded into the light area of the tongue. No one knows what causes papillae to move away from areas of your tongue and into others, but genetics is the most common theory.
Individual who already have psoriasis or a fissured tongue are more likely to experience geographic tongue. This leads many scientist to believe it is related to these other ailments. Geographic tongue comes without warning, sometimes leaving on its own within a few days. At other times, it can last for a year or more.

Most patients do not report sensitivity, but 1 out of every 10 people may have burning, tingling, or pain. These symptoms are made worse by ingesting foods which are acidic, spicy, salty or hot and by using certain toothpaste and smoking cigarettes (More ways cigarettes impact your mouth can be found at While you have the condition, consider a sensitivity friendly toothpaste.

If you have geographic tongue do not be surprised to see some areas healing while others get worse. Even with treatment, your tongue may not heal all at once. Your first step, if you think you have geographic tongue is to visit a qualified dentist or doctor to rule out other conditions.

There are many conditions which cause similar patches on the tongue (AIDS, thrush, oral lichen planus, syphilis, and certain cancers). All of these have a different course of treatment from the treatments given for geographic tongue. Geographic tongue does usually heal by itself, but if you have pain or your condition is severe, there are treatments to help you along your way.

For pain, a mild over-the-counter pain reliever is usually prescribed along with anti-inflammatory medication. To treat the condition itself zinc supplements, corticosteroids, and antiseptic mouthwash are the usual methods used. Alternative therapies such as meditation, chakra cleansing, medical marijuana, and Reiki have not been conclusively proven, but many patients have a great deal of success with them.

Before treating gum, tooth, or other oral problems consult with Dr. JJ Edderai. A dental check-up every three to four months will allow Dr. Edderai to keep a watchful eye on your oral health and prevent cavities before they start. For answers to some of the most commonly asked questions, visit my FAQ page at

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