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A Map In Your Mouth: What Is It?

When you stick out your tongue, do you notice island-shaped lesions that give it a map-like appearance? If so, you may have a condition called geographic tongue. It a state of having uneven lesions with sometimes white borders or edges appear on the upper surface and sides of the tongue.

Although uncomfortable and unappealing to look at, the lesions are harmless, misshapen spots that indicate inflammation affecting your tongue’s surface.

The tongue, when healthy, is usually covered with tiny, pink-white bumps called papillae, which are short, fine, hairlike projections. When you have geographic tongue, the patches on its surface are missing papillae, thus, appearing as smooth, red “islands” with often slightly raised borders.

What are the symptoms of geographic tongue?

Some people do not experience symptoms nor notice significant changes in the appearance of their tongue. It is only until they receive a doctor’s diagnosis do they find out about the oral condition. However, people who do notice symptoms may initially see distinct signs, which include the following:

  • Uneven red and island-shaped lesions that are smooth and sensitive to the touch.
  • White or light-colored patches that may be slightly raised around the borders or edges of the lesions.
  • Lesions that move from one area of the tongue to another in a matter of days or weeks.
  • Lesions of varying sizes and shapes (map-like appearance).
  • Discomfort or burning sensations on the tongue.
  • Sensitivity to certain substances like toothpaste, mouthwash, sugar, cigarette smoke, and hot, spicy, or acidic food.

Symptoms of a geographic tongue may last for up to a year and may return at some point.

What causes geographic tongue?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of geographic tongue remains unknown, and there is no way to prevent the condition. There may be a connection between geographic tongue and pregnancy since women go through a plethora of hormonal changes. Also, the growing fetus draws nutrients from the mother’s body, which can make a mother vitamin deficient and experience symptoms like a geographic tongue.

Other health conditions associated with the state include a deficiency in vitamin B, psoriasis, and lichen planus. However, further research is needed to grasp the possible link between geographic tongue and such conditions. In addition, factors that likely increase your risk include:

  • Family history. Like several other diseases, some people with geographic tongue have a long family history of the disorder. Thus, inherited genetic play a major role in increasing your risk.
  • Fissured tongue. People with geographic tongue may also develop a fissured tongue, which causes cracks and grooves in the surface of the tongue. These indentations can be highly irritating and sometimes painful.

When should you visit your dentist?

Although geographic tongue is a minor disease, it may be uncomfortable with symptoms appearing for a few days before disappearing within several months. If you notice any telltale signs of the condition or begin developing irritation, pain, breathing problems, difficulty speaking, or an inability to chew and swallow — make an appointment to see your dentist or GP. You may be experiencing a more severe condition beyond geographic tongue.