The geographic tongue is a condition where your tongue appears to be slightly different from normal.

While it is an inflammatory condition, it is totally harmless and non-contagious which does not require special treatment.

The name comes from the map pattern that appears on your tongue.

There are red patches that have raised white borders.

However, the red patches also lack papillae.

If you see red and white map-like patches on your tongue then you may have a geographic tongue (also called benign migratory glossitis).

Keep reading this article to know about its symptoms, causes and treatment.

geographic tongue symptoms

Geographic Tongue Symptoms

The tongue contains pink white bumps and projections.

These hairlike projections are known as papillae.

Though, a geographic tongue does not contain them rather has red and white lesions.

Unlike a strawberry tongue which is bright red and contains bumps.

They heal in one place and then move to another.

This condition is not dangerous, neither does it stem from an infection.

However, it may produce certain symptoms such as stinging and discomfort.

The lesions are the main symptom of the condition.

They are smooth and red in appearance.

However, they keep changing in size and shape, also location.

Moreover, these patches and lesions are known as erythema migrans that come and go on their own.

These lesions are smoother because they lack papillae which help protect the tongue and assist in chewing.

In fact, a few of these also assist in sensing taste as they contain taste buds.

Though this benign condition does not cause any harm and you may let it stay, you will have to get some treatment because it is uncomfortable.

There can be a burning sensation like that in a burning mouth syndrome, pain and even a stinging sensation when you eat.

This can happen more often for spicy, sweet, salty and acidic foods.

The tingling sensation can persist because of the condition of your tongue.

Another rare symptom is the formation of these lesions on other areas besides the tongue.

For instance, they can form inside the cheeks.

Moreover, you can also find them on the top of your mouth or on your gums.

Hence they can form in other places as well which has a medical term geographic stomatitis.

If your discomfort is huge then you should consult your doctor soon.

Also, meet them if the patches long later than 10 days.

The pain may or may not subside on its own as this condition can last from months to years.

causes of a geographic tongue

Geographic Tongue Causes

The exact cause behind the geographic tongue is unknown.

However, there can be a connection between psoriasis and oral lichen planus.

Moreover, it might be inherited because if one member of the family has it then probably others do too.

Hence, if it runs in the family, then you are at risk of getting it too.

Though, you may have other medical conditions alongside this which may make a geographic tongue a symptom and side effect of that health problem.

Vitamin Deficiencies 

A lack of Vitamin B12, zin, folic acid and Vitamin B6  can cause this condition.


There is more research required on this but there seems to be a link between Type 1 Diabetes and getting this condition.

Hence, people who suffer from diabetes especially Type 1, have a greater risk of getting maplike lesions.


This is an inflammatory skin condition and the maplike lesions could be a symptom of psoriasis.


As your stress increases you can get benign migratory glossitis.

There is a connection between the emotional stress you take and the appearance of these maplike patches.

Fissured Tongue 

If you have one, you probably have the other too.

A fissured tongue which is the presence of wrinkles and grooves inside your tongue comes together with benign migratory glossitis.

Hence, it may have a genetic link.

Hormonal Imbalance and Surge 

Hormonal surges and hormonal disturbances may result from taking birth control pills.

The female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone in these pills can develop these patches and lesions on the surface of your tongue.

Eczema and Hay Fever 

Allergies such as eczema and hay fever can increase the risk of getting benign migratory glossitis.

There are no complications of this condition however, it can cause embarrassment.

Plus, it is not harmful but it is hard to believe that.

patient showing mouth to doctor


If you feel a burning sensation in your mouth and tongue then contact your doctor of oral pathology and maxillofacial pathology as soon as possible to seek medical advice from them.

It could either be a burning mouth syndrome or that the benign migratory glossitis is not letting you eat properly by creating a tingling and stinging sensation.

Your doctor will examine your tongue.

They can do this by using a lighted instrument.

It will help them see the tongue and mouth in detail to notice how the geographic tongue affects it.

Moreover, they check if you have an infection for instance swelling of lymph nodes or fever.

They will examine your tongue as you move it in other directions, especially the top and side of the tongue.

In order to see the texture of the tongue and check its tenderness, they will lightly touch your tongue.

Hence, they can see the signs and symptoms of benign migratory glossitis and diagnose it accordingly.

You can also detect it on your own by checking if your tongue has maplike red and white patterns.

Moreover, you can check if the patches are smooth.

If the condition persists and you feel pain plus a burning sensation due to it, then your doctor may advise you to get the proper treatment.

Furthermore, you should get a diagnosis as there can be an underlying medical condition or infection causing it.

Getting a diagnosis helps to rule out any serious health issues.

Though benign migratory glossitis itself is neither serious nor harmful.

Hence, it requires less treatment.


Geographic Tongue Treatment

There is no set medical treatment for benign migratory glossitis.

This is because it can come and go on its own.

However, your doctor will give you pain killers to deal with the sensitivity, pain and burning sensation.

However, besides discomfort, it does not need any extensive treatment as it is a harmless condition.

Your doctor will suggest you take pain relievers.

These can be mild over-the-counter drugs, depending on the severity of your condition.

Furthermore, they can give a mouthwash with antihistamines as that could relieve any allergic reaction or pain.

If this condition is arising from Vitamin deficiency then they will give you Vitamin B supplements to replenish that in your body.

They may also suggest you use mouthwashes with anesthetics for pain relieving purposes only.

Also, corticosteroid ointments, topical analgesics that act as pain relievers can help alleviate your pain as you apply them to your tongue.

Additionally, corticosteroids rinses and Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help reduce the symptoms.

Keeping good oral health besides all this is also helpful.

Do not skip brushing teeth and use fluoride toothpaste.

However, as the symptoms come and go on their own, there is no guarantee that these treatments actually work.

Hence, you will have to do some trial and error to find the solution to your problem.

However, some side effects may appear after taking these treatments and medications for a long time.

These include:

  • Stomach ulcer
  • High blood pressure
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache

Hence, you cannot keep taking these topical treatments, mouth rinses and medications for a long time.

It can further cause issues these health problems as the condition, benign migratory glossitis can persist for an unknown amount of time.

Hence, consult with your doctor about when you should stop taking these treatments.


Remedies and Lifestyle Changes

When your mouth is already sensitive, take special precautions about what you eat and drink.

Certain foods and drinks can exacerbate your condition.

These include spicy, acidic and hot food and drinks.

They can aggravate the sensitive tissues.

So can drinking alcohol and smoking.

Also, chewing tobacco can be detrimental to your overall health, oral health and this condition.

It can worsen the stinging sensation, burning as well as pain.

Hence, avoid any tobacco product, especially chewing and smoking it.

Besides that maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly.

However, when you clean your tongue, do not overdo it.

Your mouth contains flora i.e.the good bacteria that maintain a balance between the bad and good bacteria, which you should not get rid of.

Similarly, do not excessively use mouthwash as it can get rid of flora as well.

Only use them to relieve pain.

However, you should not forgo cleaning your mouth and maintaining good oral hygiene.

If you have a red, tender and swollen tongue then it could also indicate something other than benign migratory glossitis.

Hence, it is important to get at least one dental checkup or one with your general physician.

Once, they rule out any serious cause, you can cope with the pain and burning sensation by taking a pain reliever and topical ointments.

On your own, make sure that you take special care of what you eat and what you should avoid.

baby with geographic tongue

So Summing Up 

When you have a Geographic Tongue, it could lead to embarrassment and pain.

As there is no specific time of treating it, then you are left with no option but to cope with it.

However, it is important to visit your doctor to take treatment alongside.

Hence, look in the mirror to check if you have this condition.