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Demystifying geographic tongue: Key facts you need to understand

In this article

Geographic tongue is a condition that some people might have and know nothing about. After all, it usually doesn't have any serious symptoms or side effects, and it's very unlikely to inhibit your quality of life.

In this article, we explain exactly what geographic tongue is and look into some things that may cause it. We also explore some of the conditions that geographic tongue may be associated with and explain what to do if you want more information.

So, exactly what is geographic tongue?

Geographic tongue is a non-serious medical condition that causes patches to appear on the tongue. It gets its name due to the way that it looks - the patches closely resemble that of a map of the world, with oceans and land masses laid out.

Though it can look a little unsightly, geographic tongue is nothing to be concerned about. In fact, it's a non-serious condition that doesn't require treatment for most people.

What is the cause of geographic tongue?

Medical researchers believe that approximately 3% of the world's population have geographic tongue, but its causes are fairly difficult to determine*.


That being said, there are specific groups of people that are more likely to have geographic tongue than others. For instance, people with eczema, type 1 diabetes, and reactive arthritis are more likely to have geographic tongue.

As such, geographic tongue may sometimes be determined as a symptom of such conditions, though it's not definitively known if these issues actually cause it.

What is geographic tongue associated with?

What is geographic tongue a sign of? Again, that's difficult to say. Research shows that geographic tongue might be associated with any of the following:

  • Eczema and psoriasis

  • Airborne allergies

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Reactive arthritis

  • Oral contraceptive use

  • B12 & B6 deficiencies

  • Fissured tongue

  • Emotional stress

If you have geographic tongue and other symptoms associated with some of the conditions above, it makes sense to speak to a doctor to try and get an accurate diagnosis. The fact that geographic tongue may be a symptom of various conditions makes it potentially problematic, but the condition in itself is nothing to worry about.

Symptoms of geographic tongue

The vast majority of people who have geographic tongue don't experience any painful or uncomfortable side effects*.


However, the following may all be symptoms that you do, in fact, have geographic tongue:

  • Discoloration of the tongue (white in color)

  • White spots in numerous areas on the tongue's surface

  • A slight burning sensation when eating some foods

If you have geographic tongue, you may only experience a burning sensation when eating spicy food, smoking cigarettes, or using some toothpaste brands. As such, it makes sense to avoid them if they cause you a feeling of discomfort.

How to treat geographic tongue?

Simply, you don't have to seek out any treatment if you have geographic tongue. As mentioned throughout, this is a non-serious condition that shouldn't affect your quality of life.

Most people don't even know that they have geographic tongue, unless they take the steps to self-diagnose it after seeing white patches on their tongue in the mirror.

In other cases, a dentist might inform you that you have geographic tongue when you're undergoing a dental examination. This is particularly the case if you have other symptoms relating to some of the conditions that geographic tongue is related to.

Ultimately, the vast majority of people who have geographic tongue don't need to do anything about it. But if you are concerned or if you experience discomfort when eating some foods, you can book a consultation with a doctor to discuss the way forward.

The last words

The bottom line is that geographic tongue is nothing to worry about. It is essentially the slight discoloration of your tongue, resulting in patches in different places on the tongue's surface.

Though it might be an indication of another condition, such as type 1 diabetes or eczema, geographic tongue on its own is nothing to worry about and doesn't require any treatment.

But of course, if you think geographic tongue is a symptom of another medical condition, please contact a doctor to seek an accurate diagnosis.

Geographic tongue FAQ

Q1: Is geographic tongue cancerous?

No, geographic tongue is not cancerous.

Q2: Is geographic tongue painful?

For practically all people with geographic tongue, it is not painful. You may only notice a slight burning sensation from time to time, particularly when eating spicy food.

Q3: Do I need to worry about geographic tongue?

Not usually. Geographic tongue on its own is nothing to be concerned about. However, if it is a symptom of another medical condition, you need to seek the appropriate treatment.

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