Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue is also referred to with a set of different terms such  as migratory glossitis, erythema migrans, glossitis areata exfoliativa and wandering rash of tongue, etc. In this medical anomaly, the mucus membrane on the tongue becomes inflamed, especially the membrane of the dorsal surface. It is a common issue that affects around 2 to 3 percent of the entire population. The condition is characterized by smooth and red depapillation on tongue, which may shift its position overtime. The disorder is called Geographic Tongue because of its map-like appearance that resembles the structure of an archipelago.  Though the cause of the condition is not determined with confirmation, the issue is said to be benign and harmless. Sometimes, it may be mistaken with oral cancer. In rare cases the issue may be accompanied with burning sensation.

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Wandering rash of tongue can be considered as a kind of glossitis. The irregularity is also present on lateral and dorsal surface of tongue. However, in some cases, similar irregularity may occur on ventral surface, labial mucosa, floor of mouth and other mucosal surface of the mouth. In such cases erthema migrans, geographic stomatitis and other such terms are used, rather than simple Geographic Tongue.

Symptoms of geographic tongue

There are some decisive indications that can hint about prevalence of the condition. Most common symptoms of the issue include smooth regions on the tongue. These patches may have dissimilar characteristic such as:

  • Light colored or white boundary
  • Different shape, color and sizes
  • Moving from one location to other
  • Quick changes in shape, size and location of the patches on the tongue; mostly occurring in days or weeks
  • These patches may remain for even a year

Sometimes people may not be aware of the underlying tongue issue until a dentist or general physician informs about it during diagnosis of some other issue or general health (especially oral) examination. It is recorded that around 10% individuals with this condition may experience pain or burning sensation. This may often be associated to sensitivity to certain substance such as acidic food, spicy or hot eatables, smoking or even toothpaste. However, in some people there may be no symptom apart from patches appearing on the tongue.

Causes of Geographic tongue

The exact cause of geographic tongue is not known. In some cases wherein symptoms are experienced oral habits can be considered as contributing factor.  Some experts also suggest that hormonal influences may cause such issues. Studies also indicate that people often complaint about aggravated rash on tongue due to psychological stress. Smoking and use of tobacco is also associated with the condition. Surveys suggest that the problem may run in families, hinting genetic involvement or similar diet. Since vitamin B2 deficiency is known to cause oral changes, it can also be considered as a contributing factor for wandering rash on the tongue. However, some sources say the condition is not associated with nutritional deficiency.

Initially, experts also suggested that the condition may be linked with seborrheic dermatitis, diabetes mellitus and atopy. Nevertheless, modern researchers do not agree to this theory. Some studies explain relation between psoriasis and migratory glossitis, but 90% cases among children indicated no signs of associated psoriasis, which is also confirmed by the modern experts.

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The condition can be diagnosed by a dentist who while take various factors under consideration such as associated signs and symptoms and physical examination of the tongue. There are ways in which your dentist may examine the issue including:

  • Use of lighted device to inspect your tongue and oral cavity
  • He may ask you to move your tongue in various positions
  • He may also palpate your tongue to check for pain and tenderness or changes in texture
  • He may also check for swollen lymph node in neck and signs of infections

Treatment for Geographic tongue

It is best to see a dentist to get the condition treated. It will help in discovering serious underlying issues, if any. Sometimes your dentist may recommend additional tests in order to determine the causing factor and accordingly treatment will be suggested. In most cases associated complications such as pain and discomfort gets alleviated without treatment. However, if such complications are severe then medication can be used to deal with it.  There are some medicines that may be prescribed by your doctor such as:

  • Prescription or non-prescription pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Anesthetic solutions to rinse the mouth
  • Topical corticosteroids for direct application on the tongue
  • Zinc supplements

Along with medical treatment one can also adopt certain self-care techniques to deal the issue. For example, quitting smoking and any form of tobacco use can pace-up the healing process. One should avoid or significantly reduce consumption of hot and spicy foods, acidic eatables, salted nuts, etc. You should also avoid toothpaste that is integrated with whitening agents, additives and excessive flavoring. A better alternative is toothpaste meant for sensitive teeth.

Geographic Tongue – Pictures

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