Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2003.
Geographic tongue is characterised by irregularly shaped red, map-like smooth swollen patches on the tongue. A white border sometimes surrounds them. It is also known as benign migratory glossitis because the appearance is constantly changing. Although geographic tongue is benign (harmless) it may persist for months or longer, and often recurs.
Geographic tongue occurs in up to 2% of the population. It may occur in any race, age or sex. However, it appears more commonly in females than males and more frequently in adults.
Often there are no symptoms but burning or irritation of the tongue is common, particularly with hot or spicy foods. The discomfort may come and go over time and may worsen at certain times of a women's menstrual cycle or during pregnancy.
Lesions are usually confined to the tongue but they sometimes arise elsewhere in the mouth or on the lips.
The exact cause is unknown but the following factors have been linked with the condition:
Geographic tongue is a benign condition that usually resolves itself without causing any problems for the patient so most people do not require treatment. There is no known cure. If there are associated medical conditions, treatment of these may improve the appearance of the tongue.
Discomfort may be treated with a mouth gargle or rinse containing antiseptic and anaesthetic agents. Topical corticosteroids may also be helpful for occasional use eg. triamcinolone in dental paste applied several times a day when required.
© 2019 DermNet New Zealand Trust.
DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service. If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.