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This is a common condition that causes a characteristic appearance, which experts recognise instantly. The tops of the tongue, sides and occasionally, under-surface of the tongue develop irregular, smooth red areas, which may look like the outline of a map. There are usually wavy, white lines next to the red patches.

The cause is unknown. For reasons as yet not understood the normal top layer of the ‘skin’ of the tongue is not shed evenly. In some parts the ‘skin’ is shed too early and so leaves a red, sore area like a scratch on the skin. Whereas in other areas the skin stays on too long and has a white appearance. The red areas, because they are thin, can sometimes become infected with Thrush (Candida) and so feel sore. Thrush is very common in mouths.

As the red patches are thin and raw, they tend to be sore when eating acidic things like citrus fruit or spicy foods especially chillies. However these do not make the condition worse and you will soon come to notice which particular foods make things worse.

It may be inherited from parents. There may be an allergic component.

It is not thought to be infectious. It is associated rarely with psoriasis. It has no long-term consequences.

Diagnosis can be made just from the appearance. However, various forms of anæmia have to be discounted first.

There is no cure. Sometimes treatments for Thrush can ease the discomfort. You can buy these at the chemist, e.g. miconazole gel.

Other treatments for Geographic Tongue include:

  • Anæsthetic & antihistamine mouthwashes
  • Oral pain relievers
  • Topical Steroids / Corticosteroid rinses
  • Topical tacrolimus
  • Vitamin B & zinc supplements
  • Systemic cyclosporin

You will need to work out for yourself which foods make it worse and avoid them.

Useful Articles & Websites

Wikipedia (Dermatology)

New Zealand Dermatological Society

British Dental Health Foundation

Mayo Clinic


N Engl J Med 2009. Images in Clinical Medicine. Geographic Tongue.

N Engl J Med 2016. Images in Clinical Medicine. Geographic Tongue.

Pediatric Dentistry 1992. Case Reports. Symptomatic Benign Migratory Glossitis – Report of 2 Cases & Literature Review

J Am Acad Dermatol 2010. Migratory Stomatitis (Ectopic Geographic Tongue) on the Floor of the Mouth

Am J Med 2016. Clinical Communication to the Editor. Geographic Tongue

An Bras Dermatol. 2016. Geographic tongue and psoriasis clinical, histopathological, immunohistochemical and genetic correlation – a literature review

J Clin Diagn Res 2016. Paediatric Geographic Tongue – A Case Report, Review & Recent Updates

J Dent 2016. Treatment of Symptomatic Geographic Tongue with Triamcinolone Acetonide Alone & in Combination with Retinoic Acid – A Randomized Clinical Trial

World J Dermatol 2016. Unraveling Oral Psoriasis & its Relationship with Geographic Tongue – A Literature Review

J Allergy & Clin Immunol 2017. Image in Allergy. Geographic Tongue

Acta Dermatovenerol Croat 2018. The Effect of Zinc Gluconate Supplementation on Symptoms & Tongue Epithelium Regeneration in Non-psoriatic Patients with Migratory Glossitis

Dentist Case Rep 2019. Case Report. Hairy Tongue, Geographic Tongue, Scrotal Tongue & Systemic Connections – Clinical Images & An Overview

Australian Doctor. Patient Information. Geographic Tongue

American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (2005). Geographic Tongue

BSOM Patient Information Sheet. Geographic Tongue

N Engl J Med 2009. Images in Clinical Medicine. Geographic Tongue.

N Engl J Med 2016. Images in Clinical Medicine. Geographic Tongue.

East & North Hertfordshire NHS Trust. Oral & Maxillofacial Department. Geographic Tongue

Mid Cheshire & Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts. Maxillofacial Department. Geographic Tongue

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Information for Patients. Geographic Tongue

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Information Leaflet. Geographic Tongue