Ask a Dentist: What is Geographic Tongue?

Dentist Old Bridge, NJ

You are experiencing some minor irritation in your mouth — which appears to be from your tongue area but you're not sure — you need to see a dentist. You move to the nearest mirror and there, you see different red patches on your tongue, surrounded by whitish lines. You are not sure if it is a medical emergency or if it will disappear on its own.

Yes, you may need to pay the dentist a visit to be sure you are not suffering from a serious condition; however, you need to slow down a bit. What you are dealing with is probably a harmless condition known as “benign migratory glossitis,” which is popularly known as geographic tongue.

Although it may look odd, geographic tongue is not a serious issue: it is not contagious or cancerous, and generally, it does not cause more complicated health conditions. However, this condition can increase your tongue’s sensitivity and may sometimes cause mild sensations of stinging, burning or numbness.

The presence of red patches on the tongue is due to the momentary loss of structures known as papillae, the small bumps covering the tongue’s surface. The patches may show up or disappear intermittently over several days or hours and may change in shape or position.

More about geographic tongue

The cause of geographic tongue

The issue is a result of several factors, but the precise cause is yet unknown. Some of the triggers of this condition include emotional stress, psychological upset, hormonal disorders and deficiencies of zinc and vitamin B. The condition, which occurs in one to three percent of humans, is common among non-smokers, women or people with family history of the condition. It has also been linked to people who suffer from psoriasis (a skin disorder) and those with a fissured tongue.

Treating geographic tongue

Sadly, geographic tongue has no cure, but fortunately, treatment is usually not required. The condition is benign, which means it is not cancerous and causes no harm to the patient’s health. While it may be impossible to make the condition disappear permanently, you should visit the dentist to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Once the medical professional confirms that the condition is actually migratory glossitis, it will be easier to treat the discomfort resulting from flareups.

If you are currently dealing with this issue, you can alleviate the pain by avoiding foods with high acid content (such as tomatoes and citrus fruits), including hot and spicy items. Astringent substances such as alcohol and certain mouthwashes can also aggravate the condition. Usually, the dentist will recommend anesthetic mouthwashes, steroid ointments or antihistamines if the pain becomes unbearable.

In conclusion

Although geographic tongue is not a serious disease, it could cause anxiety and pain. Therefore, you should book an appointment with the dental office for an evaluation, just to be sure. An in-depth examination can ease your fears and eliminate the chances of other conditions that can cause worries. The appearance may seem bizarre, but geographic tongue is not harmful. With adequate care, the condition is simply a minor irritation that will disappear soon enough.

Request an appointment here: or call Empire Dental Group of New Jersey at (732) 607-0909 for an appointment in our Old Bridge office.

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