Geographical Language: What is it? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Complications and Overview

It is an often painless condition in which spots or patches appear on the top and side of the tongue.

The irregular patches make the tongue resemble a map, which is where the condition gets its name.

In some cases, geographic spots on the tongue may appear in other areas of the mouth.

Quick facts on geographic language

  • Tongue patches are caused by the absence of papillae or small bumps in the affected area.
  • The patches are smooth and red. In some cases, the edges may appear slightly raised.
  • Geographic tongue is not a common condition and tends to affect adults approaching middle age.
  • Often times, the smooth patches will heal in one area of ​​the tongue and then reappear in another area.


Geographic tongue can go unnoticed for months or years. The geographic tongue is usually discovered during a routine oral exam by the dentist or doctor.

This condition generates red, smooth and irregular patches on the top and side of the tongue. Additional distinctive features include:

  • Raised border that can be white.
  • Patches in more than one area of ​​the tongue.
  • Patches of different shapes and sizes.
  • Patches that change in size over time.
  • Patches that grow, then heal, and move to other parts of the tongue.
  • Patches that last up to a year at a time.

Additional symptoms may include some minor discomfort or pain. It usually occurs during contact with food or other substances. Some potential triggers include:

  • Smoke.
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Spicy or acidic foods.
  • Hot meal.
  • Toothpaste.
  • Mouthwash.

Is it dangerous?

Despite its appearance, geographic tongue is a benign condition. There are no diseases or cancers associated with it.

Although some people may experience discomfort, pain, or burning, these sensations are almost exclusively the result of contact with spicy or acidic foods.


The geographic language appears as different patterns in the different languages ​​of the people.

In some cases, the geographic tongue may look more like a painful ulcer. Despite the appearance, these cases of geographic tongue may not cause discomfort.

In other cases, the geographic tongue may exist alongside a condition called fissured tongue, which is often easier to see.


There is currently no known cause of geographic tongue. Researchers have begun to study connections to other conditions, such as  psoriasis . However, more research is needed to confirm any connection.

Scientists have identified two potential risk factors for geographic tongue. One is fissured tongue , a condition in which the tongue has grooves along the surface. Another potential risk factor is genetics, as the condition can be passed from one generation to the next.

Partly due to unknown causes, there is no known prevention for geographic tongue.


If left untreated, most cases of geographic tongue go away on their own without medical intervention. People who do not realize they have it can never be treated, and can suffer ill effects.

Even after being treated, geographic tongue symptoms can return after a while. Treatments for geographic tongue include:

  • Anesthetic and antihistamine mouthwash .
  • Oral pain relievers.
  • Corticosteroid rinses.
  • Vitamin B and zinc supplements.

The treatments are not well researched. People may not be able to tell if the treatment has an impact on the course of the disease, as the geographic tongue tends to disappear without intervention anyway.

Possible complications

There are no major complications associated with geographic tongue. As mentioned above, there are no diseases or cancers that are known to come from the geographic tongue.

Due to its appearance, geographic tongue can lead some people to experience anxiety or other psychological complications. Anxiety can stem from fear of negative judgment from others. Also, a person may worry that there is something more seriously wrong.

When to see a doctor

If a person notices smooth red spots on the tongue, they should seek a diagnosis from a doctor or dentist. Although geographic tongue can be benign without associated complications, some more serious conditions can be mistaken for geographic tongue


A doctor or dentist can diagnose geographic tongue. This is commonly done through a simple examination of the tongue and mouth. Which can:

  • Check for signs of illness, such as swollen glands, fever, or other symptoms.
  • Look at the tongue under a light.
  • Poke your tongue to check for sensitivity or tissue for unusual sensation.
  • Asking someone to move their tongue to better examine it

In some cases, a doctor may order additional tests if he suspects that the disease is not a geographic tongue.


With the geographic language, a person will live a normal life. The appearance of the tongue and mild discomfort are often the biggest concerns a person can have. In most cases, the patches eventually go away without intervention.

There are no lifestyle changes the person needs to make, as nothing will help prevent the condition from recurring in the future. However, they may want to avoid acidic or spicy foods.