Geographic Tongue: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

geographic tongue

A geographic tongue is an oral condition that separates the tiny bumps on the tongue, called papillae, into sections. The regions with missing papillae appear reddish while their borders remain whitish. The result is a map-like pattern on the tongue, hence the name geographic tongue.

Risk Factors

Dentists don't know the exact cause of geographic tongue, but they have identified a few risk factors. Below are some of them.


Psoriasis is a skin condition characterized by an abnormal buildup of skin cells on the outermost skin layer. The condition can affect any part of the body. If the buildup occurs on the tongue, it affects some of the papillae and gives rise to a geographic tongue.

Vitamin Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin b deficiency, can also trigger a geographic tongue. In this case, the deficiency increases the risk of tongue irritation and inflammation, which can leave some parts of your tongue bald. You might suffer a vitamin deficiency, for example, if you have poor nutrition or have a health condition that affects the relevant vitamin synthesis.

Hormonal Changes

Expectant mothers and women taking oral contraceptives face a higher risk of geographic tongue than others. Hormonal imbalance is common in these two demographics. Hence, doctors have theorized that hormonal changes can trigger geographic tongue development.


Many conditions that cause inflammation in the mouth can trigger a geographic tongue. For example, those who suffer allergic reactions have an increased risk of geographic tongue.


Some people also seem to develop a geographic tongue when stressed. The exact relation is not clear, but the theory is that stress triggers multiple body responses, some of which affect your papillae.

Age and Sex

Lastly, age and sex also play a role since young adults and females have high disease incidences.

Common Symptoms

A geographic tongue can present symptoms other than the map-like pattern. For example, you might experience:

  • A mild tingling sensation in the mouth that comes and goes, especially when eating
  • Discolored patches on other parts of the mouth, such as the cheeks and gums
  • Sensitivity to certain substances, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, and cigarettes
  • Tenderness and inflammation in soft tissues of the mouth
  • General feeling and signs of ill-health, such as swollen glands and fever

You may not exhibit all these symptoms. The symptoms may also change or come and go with time.


Always consult your dentist if you notice or suspect changes in your mouth. The dentist will examine you and diagnose your condition before prescribing the right treatment regime. The diagnosis usually involves a physical examination unless the dentist suspects other things. Note that self-diagnosis is not advisable because different diseases have similar symptoms.

The good news is geographic tongue rarely causes complications other than discomfort. The condition usually clears by itself after some time. However, many people don't like how their tongues look when they have the condition. As such, you may need help with managing or treating your geographic tongue. Below are some measures that can help:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medication for your discomfort
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication to reduce oral inflammation
  • Avoid triggers or risk factors, such as nutritional deficiency
  • Avoid mouth irritants, such as hot or acidic food
  • Maintain good oral hygiene  

Your dentist may also prescribe other helpful management measures.

Regular dental checkups can help you avoid many forms of oral diseases. Note that the dentist will also use the exams to educate you on oral care and hygiene. Airport Road Dental Associates has experienced family dentists to handle all your dental and oral care needs. Contact us for routine consultations or treatment.