What is a geographic tongue?

Although you may not have heard of geographic tongue, it is a common condition – and one that often appears among the most frequent dental searches on the internet, explain our Hunts Cross dentists, Ben Harvey and James Garside.

Geographic tongue can appear on the top, sides and underneath your tongue. It develops irregular, smooth, red areas, which may look like the outline of a map, and there are usually wavy white lines next to the red patches.

You may notice that after a few weeks or months the position of these lines and red patches changes.

The UK’s leading dental health charity, the Oral Health Foundation, has a series of helpful articles that cover all manner of dental conditions and treatments. So, if you ever find anything unusual in your mouth and want an answer out of surgery hours, this is the site to visit for expert help and guidance.

Speak to our helpful team

During our opening hours, please call us, as our friendly front of house team is always happy to answer dental questions from patients, who visit us from across Liverpool.

Why does it happen?
Geographic tongue occurs because of the way the old surface of the tongue replaces itself in that the top layer of ‘skin’ does not come away evenly. In some parts the ‘skin’ comes away too early and so leaves a red, sore area like a scratch on the skin. In other places the skin stays on too long and looks white.

The red areas, because they are thin, can sometimes become infected with thrush (candida) and feel sore. Thrush is very common in mouths.

Who does it affect?
It affects all age groups and you may have first noticed it as a child. It is not something that you can pass on to other people but it can run in families. It is not an infection.

What makes it worse?
As the red patches are thin and raw, they tend to be painful when you eat acidic things like citrus fruit or spicy foods – especially chillies. However, these do not make the condition itself worse. You will soon notice which particular foods make the condition more uncomfortable or sore.

Do I need any special tests?
No. Our Hunts Cross Dental team or your doctor can diagnose the problem just by looking at your tongue.

How is it treated?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment. Sometimes treatments for thrush can ease the discomfort, for example, miconazole gel, which can be bought at the pharmacist.
Geographic tongue will never become cancerous.

What should I do if it gets worse in any way?
Ask one of our Liverpool dentists or your doctor to refer you to hospital.

Welcoming new private patients from across Liverpool

The door to our Mackets Lane dental practice is always open to new patients and we offer a Welcome Consultation for £46.50 that includes a full clinical examination, any necessary x-rays or clinical photographs, investigations and discussion of your treatment options. Please contact us for details or to book.