Geographic Tongue


What is geographic tongue?

Geographic tongue is a noncancerous condition that creates patches of smooth, reddish skin on your tongue. Geographic tongue is benign, meaning it doesn’t spread. It’s called geographic tongue because the patch patterns resemble how land masses and oceans are shown on maps.

Geographic tongue isn’t painful and it’s not serious. But you should talk to a healthcare provider if you notice patches or other changes on your tongue.

Is it common?

That’s hard to say. Experts estimate about 3% of all people worldwide have geographic tongue. People with this condition may not have symptoms and may not seek medical care, so it’s possible that more people than estimated have geographic tongue.

Who has geographic tongue?

Anyone can develop geographic tongue, from babies to children to adults. The condition is slightly more common in young adults than in older adults. It may occur in:

  • People with eczema and psoriasis.
  • People with airborne allergies.
  • People with diabetes, particularly Type 1 diabetes.
  • People with reactive arthritis.
  • Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) who use oral contraceptives.
  • People with vitamin deficiencies, including zinc, iron, folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.
  • People with fissured tongue, a condition that causes deep grooves or wrinkles on your tongue.
  • People dealing with emotional stress.

Symptoms and Causes

What are geographic tongue symptoms?

The most noticeable symptom is a pattern of smooth, reddish spots on your tongue with white or gray borders. Normally, your tongue is covered with papillae. Papillae are tiny, hair-like projections that protect your tongue. People with geographic tongue have fewer papillae than normal. The patches may come and go. Other symptoms may include:

  • A burning sensation: You may notice a stinging, tingling or burning sensation, especially when you eat spicy or acidic food or drink acidic beverages like orange or grapefruit juice.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: You may have swollen lymph nodes in your lower jaw.

What causes geographic tongue?

Healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes the condition. They believe people with certain diseases are more likely to develop geographic tongue. Those diseases include:

What deficiencies cause geographic tongue?

People who don’t get enough zinc, iron, folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 from their daily diet may have an increased risk of developing geographic tongue.

What foods cause geographic tongue?

Food doesn’t cause geographic tongue, but spicy foods may create tingling or burning sensations where you have patches.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose geographic tongue?

Healthcare providers diagnose geographic tongue by:

  • Asking about your symptoms, such as whether your tongue hurts or if the patches on your tongue go away and come back.
  • Asking about your family medical history. Geographic tongue tends to run in families.
  • Examining your tongue.

Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat geographic tongue?

There’s no treatment to eliminate geographic tongue, but healthcare providers may recommend medication, including:


Can I prevent geographic tongue?

Probably not. Healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes geographic tongue, but they believe people with certain conditions, like diabetes or skin issues, have increased risk of developing geographic tongue. You may be able to reduce your risk by eating a healthy diet that contains enough zinc, folic acid, iron and vitamins B6 and B12 and managing your stress.

Outlook / Prognosis

Can geographic tongue be cured?

No, it can’t be cured. Geographic tongue often goes away on its own without treatment, but it can come back.

Can geographic tongue become oral cancer?

No, geographic tongue is a noncancerous disorder that doesn’t become oral cancer. That said, you should talk to a dentist or healthcare provider any time you notice changes in your mouth, such as white patches that could be signs of oral cancer.

Living With

How do I get rid of geographic tongue?

You can’t get rid of geographic tongue. But there are things you can do to ease its symptoms, including:

  • Using a mouthwash with an antihistamine.
  • Avoiding spicy foods.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Geographic tongue is a noncancerous condition that creates patches of smooth, reddish skin on your tongue. Geographic tongue is benign, meaning it doesn’t spread. Some people have geographic tongue without having noticeable symptoms. When they do, symptoms include patches on their tongue and burning and tingling sensations, especially when they eat spicy or acidic foods. If you spot changes in your tongue, talk to a healthcare provider so they can determine what caused the changes.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/14/2023.


  • American Academy of Oral Medicine. Geographic Tongue. ( Accessed 2/14/2023.
  • Nandini DB, Bhavana SB, Deepak BS, Ashwini R. Paediatric Geographic Tongue: A Case Report, Review and Recent Updates. ( J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 Feb; 10(2):ZE05-9. Accessed 2/14/2023.
  • National Organization for Rare Disorders. Geographic Tongue. ( Accessed 2/14/2023.
  • Pereira RDPL, de Oliveira JMD, Pauletto P, Munhoz EA, Silva Guerra EN, Massignan C. Worldwide prevalence of geographic tongue in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. ( Oral Dis. 2022 Oct 8. Accessed 2/14/2023.

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