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Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue is the name of a condition that gets its name from its map-like appearance on the upper surface and sides of the tongue. It may occur in other areas of your mouth, as well.

You'll be relieved to know that geographic tongue is a harmless, benign condition that isn't linked to any infection or cancer. Two other names for geographic tongue are benign migratory glossitis and erythema migrans.

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Affecting about 1% to 3% of people, geographic tongue can show up at any age.  However, it tends to affect middle-aged or older adults more often. It appears to be more common in women than in men.

Symptoms of Geographic Tongue

The telltale signs of geographic tongue are irregular, smooth, red patches on parts of the tongue. These patches may:

  • Have a white or light-colored border
  • Vary in size, shape, and color
  • Appear one area, and then move to another area
  • Come and go or change very quickly  in days, weeks, or months
  • Last up to a year

You may be unaware that you have geographic tongue until your dentist or other health care provider diagnoses it during an oral exam.

About one in 10 people with geographic tongue may have mild discomfort or a burning or painful sensation. This is often from sensitivity to substances such as:

  • Hot, spicy, or acidic foods
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Toothpaste

 

Causes and Risk Factors

Geographic tongue occurs when parts of the tongue are missing layers of small bumps called papillae. They normally cover the entire upper layer of your tongue. Why do you lose these papillae with geographic tongue? Nobody knows for sure. However, because geographic tongue tends to run in families, genetics may be a common link.

Geographic tongue has also been seen more frequently in people with psoriasis and in those with fissured tongue. In fissured tongue, cracks and grooves appear on the tops and sides of the tongue.

Treatment or Self-Care for Geographic Tongue

Seeing a dentist or doctor is the best way to rule out a more serious problem. In most cases, he or she can diagnose geographic tongue from a description of your symptoms and from examining your mouth and tongue. You may need tests to rule out other medical conditions.
 

In most cases, any pain or discomfort will get better without treatment. But if you have severe, ongoing pain, medication can help. These are examples of what your doctor or dentist may prescribe:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Mouth rinses with anesthetic
  • Corticosteroids applied directly on the tongue
  • Zinc supplements

If you're wondering about steps you can take to hasten the relief of symptoms, try limiting these substances or avoid them altogether:

  • Tobacco
  • Hot, spicy, or acidic foods or dried, salty nuts
  • Toothpaste with additives, whitening agents, or heavy flavoring (toothpaste for sensitive teeth is a better choice)

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on August 09, 2014
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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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