Geographic tongue, also known as ‘benign migratory glossitis’, is an inflammatory condition that presides on the tongue and that affects around 2% of the general population.
The main symptom is discoloration of the taste buds, along with sometimes cracks in the tongue. These protrusions are called ‘papillae’ and appear across the top of the tongue as red patches with grayish white blotches. This is a chronic condition which tends to lie dormant and then present itself after consumption of exacerbating foods. Other things that can cause an outburst are hormonal imbalances (such as during pregnancy or menstruation) and times of stress or illness when the immune system is low. Here we will look at treatments available for geographic tongue.
Geographic Tongue Causes
The discoloration of the tongue is caused by clusters of papillae – they are missing where the area is red and overcrowded where the tongue is white (discoloration can also be caused by yeast infection). Often the patches will disappear and reappear several times within a few hours or days. There is not normally pain, though in some cases it might lead to burning or stinging and can be sensitive to touch.
The reason for these clusters of papillae however are not fully understood. There is a familial link suggesting a genetic basis and some genes have been implicated in the condition. This is not conclusive however as familial links might be based on similar diets rather than genetics. It is more common in those with other allergies, eczema and asthma. Suggested causes are stress and high sugar diets. Other suggested causes are vitamin B deficiency, allergies and hormone imbalances.
Diet then certainly plays some role in the problem. Someone with geographic tongue might benefit from having their blood tested for vitamin B deficiency and then increasing their consumption of the vitamin if one is fond. Zinc supplementation has also been found to be effective and others get relief from chewing on mint and sucking mint candies during and after a flare up.
While it is not a treatment, one way to prevent the problem is to avoid exacerbating foods. These can vary but commonly include:
- Spicy food
- Strong cheese
- Sour food
- Mouth washes
There is no known cure for geographic tongue and management normally consists of switching to the recommended diet. However other temporary treatments can include the topical application of steroid ointment which can treat the symptoms temporarily. Where there is pain, antihistamines have been shown to be effective in reducing burning (perhaps implicating allergic reaction?). In most cases however the condition is asymptomatic and manageable without treatment.