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Posts for tag: geographic tongue

By John G. Fisher, DMD
March 17, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: geographic tongue  
ThoseRedPatchesonYourTongueareNothingtobeAlarmedAbout

If you've ever been alarmed to find oddly-shaped red patches on your tongue, you can relax for the most part. Most likely, you're part of a small fraction of the population with a condition known as geographic tongue.

The name comes from the irregular shape of the patches that seem to resemble land formations on a map. Its medical name is benign migratory glossitis, which actually describes a lot about the condition. The patches are actually areas of inflammation on the tongue (“glossus” – tongue; “itis” – swelling) that appear to move around or migrate. They're actually made up of areas where the tiny bumps (papillae) you normally feel have disappeared: the patches feel flat and smooth compared to the rest of the tongue.

We're not sure why geographic tongue occurs. It often runs in families and seems to occur mostly in middle-aged adults, particularly women and non-smokers. It's believed to have a number of triggers like emotional stress, hormonal disturbances or vitamin or mineral deficiencies. There may also be a link between it and the skin condition psoriasis. Under a microscope the red patchiness of both appears to be very similar in pattern; the two conditions often appear together.

The bad news is we can't cure geographic tongue. But the good news is the condition is benign, meaning it's not cancerous; it's also not contagious. It poses no real health threat, although outbreaks can be uncomfortable causing your tongue to feel a little sensitive to the touch with a burning or stinging sensation. Some people may also experience numbness.

Although we can't make geographic tongue go away permanently, you should come by for an examination to confirm that is the correct diagnosis. Once we know for sure that you do have migratory glossitis, we can effectively manage discomfort when it flares up. You should limit your intake of foods with high acidity like tomatoes or citrus fruits, as well as astringents like alcohol or certain mouthrinses. We can also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments if the discomfort becomes more bothersome.

It may look strange, but geographic tongue is harmless. With the right care it can be nothing more than a minor annoyance.

If you would like more information on benign migratory glossitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Geographic Tongue.”

By John G. Fisher, DMD
August 20, 2014
Category: Oral Health
Tags: geographic tongue  
WhatintheWorldisGeographicTongue

Picture this: You’re feeling some mild irritation in your mouth, which seems to be coming from the area near your tongue. You go to the mirror, open wide… and notice a series of red patches on the tongue’s surface, which are surrounded by whitish borders. Should you drop what you’re doing and rush to get medical help right away?

Sure, a visit to the dentist might be a good idea to rule out more serious problems — but first, sit down and relax for a moment. Chances are what you’re experiencing is an essentially harmless condition called “benign migratory glossitis,” which is also known by its common name — geographic tongue. While it may look unusual, geographic tongue isn’t a serious condition: It’s not cancerous or contagious, and it doesn’t generally lead to more severe health problems. However, it can make your tongue feel a bit more sensitive, and may occasionally lead to mild sensations of burning, stinging or numbness.

The appearance of reddish patches on the tongue results from the temporary loss of structures called papillae: tiny bumps which normally cover the tongue’s surface. These patches may appear or disappear over the course of days — or even hours — and sometimes appear to change their shape or location.

What causes geographic tongue? Several factors seem to be responsible for setting off the problem, but as of yet the actual cause of the disease is unknown. Among these triggers are emotional stress and psychological upsets, hormonal disturbances, and deficiencies in zinc or vitamin B. The condition, which affects between one and three percent of the population, is seen more frequently in non-smokers, in women, and in those with a family history of the problem. It is also associated with people who suffer from psoriasis, a common skin condition, and those who have a fissured (deeply grooved) tongue.

Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for geographic tongue — but the good news is that treatment is usually unnecessary. If you’re experiencing this condition, it may help if you avoid foods with high levels of acidity (like tomatoes and citrus fruits), as well as hot and spicy foods. Alcohol and other astringent substances (like some mouthwashes) may also aggravate it.

While geographic tongue isn’t a serious condition, it can cause worry and discomfort. That’s why it’s a good idea for you to come into the office and have it checked, just to make sure. A thorough examination can put your mind at ease, and rule out other conditions that may be more of a concern. We may be also able to help you manage this condition by prescribing anesthetic mouth rinses, antihistamines, or other treatments.

If you would like more information about geographic tongue, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Geographic Tongue.”