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What Is Geographic Tongue?

March 30, 2018

Filed under: Dentistry — Tags: , , — salvaggiodentistry @ 2:12 pm

Man sticking out tongueGeographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis. It results in red and white areas that spread to the top and side of the tongue. While it usually affects the tongue, it can also affect other areas of the mouth. Despite the appearance, geographic tongue is not linked to cancer or infection. This condition affects between one to three percent of the population.


Symptoms include smooth, irregular shaped white or red patches on parts of the tongue.

Characteristics of the patches include:

  • Varying size and shape
  • Movement of the areas affected
  • White borders
  • Comes and goes in varying amounts of time

Roughly one out of every ten people experience pain or discomfort. Pain is usually due to smoking cigarettes, eating spicy, hot or acidic foods, and using certain types of toothpaste.

Risk Factors

Normally, the tongue has papillae. Papillae are small bumps which cover the top layer of the tongue. With geographic tongue, areas of the tongue do not have papillae, which results in a patchy look. While no one is sure why this condition occurs, family history and genetics play a part. Other factors include stress, certain habits, diabetes, allergies and hormonal imbalances. People with fissured tongue and psoriasis frequently have geographic tongue.


If you think you have geographic tongue, it is best to see your dentist so they can confirm the diagnosis. For most patients, there is little to no discomfort experienced. For cases of discomfort, medication may be prescribed. Medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers, anesthetic mouthrinse, etc. are options. Avoiding tobacco products, hot, spicy, acidic, and salty foods help. Toothpaste with whitening agents or flavours can irritate the condition, so toothpaste made for sensitive teeth is recommended.

Dental Considerations

Geographic tongue is not contagious so it cannot be passed to someone else. There are also no reported cases of geographic tongue turning into cancer.

About Dr. Joseph Salvaggio

Dr. Salvaggio

Located in Brampton, Ontario Dr. Joseph Salvaggio has been practicing general, cosmetic, and implant dentistry for over 20 years. He enjoys interacting with his patients and helping to restore their oral health for better overall health as well. Meeting new patients, interacting and educating them is one of Dr. Salvaggio’s biggest joys. We encourage you to read our reviews or call us with any dental questions you have. We look forward to speaking with you and meeting you soon.

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