Geographic Tongue
(Benign Migratory Glossitis,
Erythema Migrans Linguæ)
This is a common condition that causes a characteristic
appearance, which experts recognise instantly.  The tops of
the tongue, sides and occasionally, under-surface of the
tongue develop irregular, smooth red areas, which may look
like the outline of a map.  There are usually wavy, white
lines next to the red patches.
Photographs of Geographic Tongue
The cause is unknown.  For reasons as yet not understood the normal top layer of
the ‘skin’ of the tongue is not shed evenly.  In some parts the ‘skin’ is shed too
early and so leaves a red, sore area like a scratch on the skin.  Whereas in other
areas the skin stays on too long and has a white appearance.  The red areas,
because they are thin, can sometimes become infected with
Thrush (Candida) and
so feel sore.  
Thrush is very common in mouths.

As the red patches are thin and raw, they tend to be sore when eating acidic things
like citrus fruit or spicy foods especially chillies.  However these do not make the
condition worse and you will soon come to notice which particular foods make
things worse.

It may be inherited from parents.  There may be an allergic component.

It is not thought to be infectious.  It is associated rarely with psoriasis.  It has no
long-term consequences.

Diagnosis can be made just from the appearance.  However, various forms of
anæmia have to be discounted first.

There is no cure.  Sometimes treatments for
Thrush can ease the discomfort.  You
can buy these at the chemist, e.g.
miconazole gel.

You will need to work out for yourself which foods make it worse and avoid them.
Last Updated 15th December 2014
Useful Websites:


New England Journal of Medicine

Emedicine.com (Dermatology)

New Zealand Dermatological Society

British Dental Health Foundation

Bond's Book of Oral Diseases (4th Edition) /
The Maxillofacial Center for Diagnostics &

Mayo Clinic

European Association of Oral Medicine
Useful Articles:

Pediatric Dentistry 1992.  Case Reports.  Symptomatic Benign Migratory Glossitis
- Report of 2 Cases & Literature Review

J Am Acad Dermatol 2010.  Migratory Stomatitis (Ectopic Geographic Tongue) on
the Floor of the Mouth

Australian Doctor.  Patient Information.  Geographic Tongue

American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (2005).  Geographic

BSOM Patient Information Sheet.  Geographic Tongue

East & North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.  Oral & Maxillofacial Department.  
Geographic Tongue

Mid Cheshire & Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts.  Maxillofacial
Department.  Geographic Tongue

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  Information for Patients.  
Geographic Tongue

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.  Information Leaflet.  
Geographic Tongue