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There are a lot of people who link Geographic tongue to cancer, syndromes or something that is much more serious than it actually is. Still, relatively uncommon, Geographic tongue can affect the quality of life and can require some precautions and medication to effectively manage it over the course of the patients life.

What is Geographic Tongue?

It is an autoimmune condition that is likely to be found in females of Caucasian population. The age of onset can vary, with reports of the condition being found in young children to older adults as well. The name Geographic tongue comes from its clinical appearance of random patches that can almost appear like a map. In fact, these patches also changes and shift over a period of time like a landmass.

It is also called as Benign Migratory Glossitis and Erythema Migrans.

Signs and Symptoms:

The signs and symptoms associated with Geographic Tongue can vary from person to person, however some which are considered pathognomic are:

- Irregular, reddish-white patches on the dorsal surface of the tongue

- The patches appear to shift and change position

- The red patches have a lighter, distinct border between themselves and the unaffected part of the tongue.

- The condition is episodic in nature with multiple outbreaks being reported in a year and each episode lasting from a few months to a year.

- Spicy food in particular is difficult to eat during outbreaks with the patients experiencing a burning sensation.

- The outbreaks of geographic tongue can cause a lot of pain to the patients as well. This varies greatly among patients and there is no reason why one person might feel more pain than the other.

- Alteration in taste: The areas of the tongue that are affected with geographic tongue patches are devoid of papillae found on the surface of the tongue. These papillae contain taste buds and thus their absence directly affects this part of the tongue function.

Risk Factors

While the exact cause for the occurrence of Geographic Tongue is unknown, there are certain risk factors that are associated with it.

-Genetic: Geographic Tongue tends to run in families and so a genetic link to its inheritance and occurrence may be present

-Often seen in patients who have psoriasis or fissured tongue. This again could be due to a common genetic link.


The treatment of Geographic tongue is limited symptom alleviation to make the patient more comfortable during outbreaks.

Some of the things that can be used are:

-Analgesics: Pain relief is often got from the use of over the counter and easily available pain relieving drugs. Injectible and other prescription pain killers are rarely required.

- Anti inflammatory drugs: These help with the burning sensation that a lot of patients complain of. The borders of the patches particularly can become inflamed and bothersome.

-Steroids: Topical steroids which are more effective at fighting inflammation may also be prescribed.

- Mouthwashes: Antibacterial mouthwashes which also have an analgesic and anesthetic component can be used for symptom relief.

-Nutritional Supplements: Some reports have shown the role of nutrient deficiency in the role of an outbreak of an episode of Geographic tongue. Zinc is one of the nutrients that is usually prescribed for prevention of these episodes.

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