Patchy Discolorations on the Tongue Aren't a Cause for Worry
Some things in life look worse than they really are. A condition known as “geographic tongue” is a good example: while it may look serious, it’s not a cause for real concern.
If you’ve never heard of geographic tongue it’s because it’s not a common ailment: it only affects one to three percent of the population. The name comes from patches of redness on the top surface of the tongue surrounded by grayish white borders, which gives the red patches a look similar to land masses on a map.
It’s known formally as “benign migratory glossitis,” which tells us more about the condition: “benign” means the patches aren’t cancerous; “migratory” indicates the patches tend to move and take different shapes along the surface of the tongue. In fact, it’s possible for them to appear, disappear, and then reappear over the course of a few days.
The exact causes of geographic tongue haven’t been fully substantiated. Researchers believe emotional stress, psychological problems or hormonal disturbances (especially women during pregnancy or ovulation) could be triggers for its occurrence. Certain dietary deficiencies like zinc or vitamin B, or acidic foods are also believed to be factors.
While geographic tongue isn’t painful, it can leave your tongue feeling more sensitive with a mild burning or stinging sensation. If you’re prone to having geographic tongue, there are some things you can do to reduce the irritation. Try to avoid eating acidic or spicy foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits or mint, as well as astringent substances like alcohol or certain mouthwashes. We may also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments to help ease any discomfort.
The good news, though, is that this harmless condition is more irritating than anything else. With a little care and forethought you won’t even know you have it.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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.”