Your physician or dentist usually can diagnose geographic tongue by looking at your tongue and going over your symptoms.

During the exam, your physician or dentist may:

  • Use a lighted instrument to check your tongue and mouth.
  • Ask you to move your tongue around in various positions.
  • Gently touch your tongue to check for tenderness or unusual changes in the tongue's texture.
  • Check for signs of infection, such as fever or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Some symptoms of geographic tongue may look like other conditions, such as oral lichen planus. This condition appears as lacy white patches in the mouth — sometimes with painful sores. So some conditions might need to be ruled out before making a diagnosis.


Geographic tongue usually does not need any medical treatment. While geographic tongue sometimes can cause tongue pain, it's a harmless condition.

To manage pain or sensitivity, your doctor may recommend medicines such as:

  • Pain relievers available without a prescription.
  • Mouth rinses that numb the area.
  • Antihistamine mouth rinses. Antihistamines are used to reduce swelling.
  • Corticosteroid ointments or rinses. Corticosteroids are used to manage conditions that cause swelling or affect the immune system, such as lichen planus.
  • Vitamin B or zinc.
  • Medications for fungal infections.

Because these treatments haven't been studied in great detail, their benefit is not known. Since geographic tongue comes and goes on its own, you may not be able to tell if treatments are making symptoms go away.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Most people with geographic tongue don't experience symptoms. But if you have symptoms, you may reduce pain by staying away from or limiting substances that commonly make sensitive oral tissues feel worse. These substances include spicy or acidic foods or beverages, as well as alcohol and tobacco.

Preparing for your appointment

If you're worried about how your tongue looks, make an appointment with your doctor or dentist.

What you can do

Prepare questions ahead of time to make the most of your appointment. Basic questions to ask include:

  • Why does my tongue look like this?
  • Could there be any other possible causes?
  • How long will this condition last?
  • What treatments are available?
  • Is there anything I can do at home to ease my pain?
  • What should I do if my tongue flares up again?

What to expect from your doctor

Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • When did the red patches first appear?
  • Has the look of the red patches changed?
  • Have the patches moved to different places on your tongue?
  • Have you had any other red patches or sores in your mouth?
  • Have you had any aches or pain?
  • Does spicy food, acidic food or anything else seem to cause pain?
  • Have you had any other symptoms that may seem unrelated to the condition of your tongue?
  • Have you had a fever?

Preparing and expecting questions will help you make the most of your time.

Sept. 07, 2023
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