Your physician or dentist can usually make a diagnosis of geographic tongue based on an examination of your tongue and your signs and 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 (palpate) your tongue to check for tenderness or unusual changes in the tongue's texture or consistency
- Check for signs of infection, such as fever or swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Geographic tongue typically doesn't require any medical treatment. Although geographic tongue can sometimes cause tongue discomfort, it's otherwise a harmless condition.
To manage discomfort or sensitivity, your doctor may recommend medications such as:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Mouth rinses with an anesthetic
- Antihistamine mouth rinses
- Corticosteroid ointments or rinses
- Vitamin B supplementation, in some cases
Because these treatments haven't been studied rigorously, their benefit is uncertain. Since the condition resolves on its own and has an unpredictable course, you may not be able to tell if the symptomatic treatments are actually working.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You may reduce discomfort associated with geographic tongue by avoiding or limiting substances that commonly aggravate sensitive oral tissues, such as spicy or acidic foods or beverages, as well as alcohol and tobacco.
Preparing for your appointment
If you're concerned about the appearance of your tongue, make an appointment with your dentist.
What you can do
Prepare questions ahead of time to make the most of your appointment. Basic questions to ask include:
- What's the likely cause of my condition?
- Could there be any other possible causes?
- Is my condition permanent?
- What treatments are available?
- Is there anything I can do at home to relieve discomfort?
- What should I do if my condition flares up again?
What to expect from your doctor
Be prepared to answer the following questions:
- When did the lesions first appear?
- Have the lesions changed in appearance or location on your tongue?
- Have you had any other lesions in your mouth?
- Have you experienced any discomfort or pain?
- Does anything, such as spicy or acidic food, seem to trigger pain?
- Have you had any other symptoms that may seem unrelated to the condition of your tongue?
- Have you had a fever?
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.