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Geographic Tongue: A Traveling Patch Show


Benign migratory glossitis, more commonly known as geographic tongue, comes with good news and bad news: The good news is that it doesn't seem to be dangerous to your dental or overall health. It's not a sign of oral cancer or another disease. The bad news is that there is no known geographic tongue treatment. You'll just have to ride out geographical tongue until it goes away on its own. Geographic tongue cures help you tolerate pain, but don't solve the problem.

Magical Geographical Tongue, Defined

Geographic Tongue – Chart possible causes of geographical tongue.

If you have geographic tongue, you'll see red lesions or splotches along the sides or on top of your tongue blade. The spots are usually outlined with white or yellow-white ridges around the reddened areas, giving your tongue a nearly three dimensional, map-like appearance. Interestingly enough, the geographical patches change shape and move. One day the patch could look a lot like Brazil, and then within an hour or two, it shape-shifts into something that resembles Yeehaw Junction, Florida. Transformation of a tongue geographic may take hours, days or months.

Geographical tongue is best defined by what it is not: You know those hair-like projections and bumps on your tongue surface? Those are called papillae, and sometimes you lose them. That traveling patch show just means that the papillae have been "denuded" (removed) in that area of your tongue. Geographic tongue is basically a bald spot.

The bald spots tend to look bright and smooth. Your migrating tongue patches may feel slightly uncomfortable, or you may experience burning sensations when eating hot, acidic or spicy foods - which may prompt you to seek geographic tongue cures.

Geographic Tongue Theory

No one really knows what causes the denuding or puts your patches on the prowl. The American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology says geographic tongue might be a form of psoriasis (a condition that reddens and irritates skin), though people with skin psoriasis don't necessarily get geographical tongue. And people who get geographic tongue don't always have skin psoriasis either.

A paper published by The American Academy of Pedodontics suggests the condition may be allergy related, citing that 28 to 53 percent of a group of children studied have both allergies and geographical tongue.

And the Hershey Medical Center at Penn State cites a possible vitamin B deficiency; or irritation from certain foods or alcohol may be the culprits. Ultimately, all sources say no triggers for geographic tongue have been positively identified yet.

Geographic Tongue Treatment & Time Travel

Since few people have a geographic tongue, and since even fewer will actually suffer burning sensations or discomfort, chances are that time may provide your best geographic tongue cure. You may watch your patch migrate from spot to spot for up to a year, and the condition may go away and return again.

There are some do-it-yourself dental treatments you can try at home first, especially if you experience only mild or occasional discomfort. These geographic tongue cures recommended by the Mayo Clinic all focus on avoiding these irritants:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco products
  • Hot foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Acidic beverages and foods
  • Toothpastes with tartar control or whitening additives, or strong flavoring
  • Salted nuts

As your tongue geographically travels, you may need to travel to your dentist's office, especially if you are suffering serious pain or burning sensations and need a better geographic tongue cure. Even though no actual cure for the condition itself exists, your dentist may recommend one of the following symptom relievers:

  • Over-the-counter pain-relievers
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Mouth rinses with a topical anesthetic
  • Topical corticosteroids

Putting Your Best Tongue Forward

Believe it or not, there are lots of things that can go wrong with your tongue. White lesions might indicate leukoplakia; red lesions can warn of geographic tongue, erythroplakia or a sore. Or you could get fuzzy growths in a variety of colors to clue you to thrush or hairy tongue. It's important to know what you're dealing with and the potential seriousness of your situation, which is why you should see your dentist if you're not sure.

Need a dentist to treat your geographical tongue discomfort, or identify another problem in your mouth?

Call us at 1-866-970-0441. We're here to help you at any hour, and any day of the year.

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