Signs and symptoms of geographic tongue may include:
- Smooth, red, irregularly shaped patches (lesions) on the top or side of your tongue
- Frequent changes in the location, size and shape of lesions
- Discomfort, pain or burning sensation in some cases, most often related to eating spicy or acidic foods
Many people with geographic tongue have no symptoms.
Geographic tongue can continue for days, months or years. The problem often resolves on its own but may appear again at a later time.
When to see a doctor
Geographic tongue is a minor — although sometimes uncomfortable — condition. However, lesions on the tongue may indicate other more-serious conditions of the tongue or diseases affecting the body in general. If you have lesions on the tongue that don't resolve within 10 days, see your doctor or dentist.
The cause of geographic tongue is unknown, and there's no way to prevent the condition. There may be a link between geographic tongue and psoriasis and between geographic tongue and lichen planus. But more research is needed to better understand possible connections.
Studies of factors that may be associated with an increased risk of geographic tongue have produced mixed results. Factors that are likely associated with an increased risk include:
- Family history. Some people with geographic tongue have a family history of the disorder, so inherited genetic factors may increase risk.
- Fissured tongue. People with geographic tongue often have another disorder called fissured tongue, which has the appearance of deep grooves (fissures) on the surface of the tongue.
Geographic tongue is a benign condition. It doesn't pose a threat to your health, cause long-term complications or increase your risk of major health problems.
However, anxiety about the condition is fairly common because:
- The appearance of the tongue may be embarrassing, depending on how visible the lesions are
- It may be difficult to be reassured that there is, in fact, nothing seriously wrong
May 12, 2017
- Usatine RP, et al. Geographic tongue. In: The Color Atlas of Family Medicine, 2nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=678. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
- Mangold AR, et al. Diseases of the tongue. Clinics in Dermatology. 2016;34:458.
- AskMayoExpert. Geographic tongue. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.
- Goldstein BG, et al. Oral lesions. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 26, 2017.
- Geographic tongue. The American Academy of Oral Medicine. http://www.aaom.com/. Accessed Jan. 27, 2017.
- Picciani BL, et al. Geographic tongue and psoriasis: Clinical, histopathological, immunohistochemical and genetic correlation — A literature review. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 2016;4:410.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 28, 2017.