Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition affecting the surface of your tongue. The tongue is normally covered with tiny, pinkish-white bumps (papillae), which are actually short, fine, hair-like projections. With geographic tongue, patches on the surface of the tongue are missing papillae and appear as smooth, red "islands," often with slightly raised borders.

These patches (lesions) give the tongue a map-like, or geographic, appearance. The lesions often heal in one area and then move (migrate) to a different part of your tongue. Geographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis.

Although geographic tongue may look alarming, it doesn't cause health problems and isn't associated with infection or cancer. Geographic tongue can sometimes cause tongue discomfort and increased sensitivity to certain substances.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Signs and symptoms of geographic tongue may include:

  • Smooth, red, irregularly shaped patches (lesions) on the top or side of your tongue
  • Frequent changes in the location, size and shape of lesions
  • Discomfort, pain or burning sensation in some cases, most often related to eating hot, spicy, salty or acidic foods

Many people with geographic tongue have no symptoms.

Geographic tongue can persist for months or years. The problem often resolves on its own but may appear again at a later time.

When to see a doctor

Geographic tongue is a minor — although sometimes uncomfortable — condition. However, lesions on the tongue may indicate other more serious conditions of the tongue or diseases affecting the body in general. If you have lesions on the tongue that don't resolve within seven to 10 days, see your doctor or dentist.

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