Many factors can cause infections in the mouth, but one of the oddest-looking oral conditions is not connected to an infection, nor is it a sign of oral cancer. In fact, most people with geographic tongue are otherwise healthy.
Geographic tongue occurs when the papillae (the small bumps that cover the tongue) disappear from random areas of the tongue, leaving smooth, red patches of different sizes that create a map-like appearance. These patches may change in size and shape from day to day. The condition is not always painful, but some people report tongue discomfort and burning that may be worse when they eat hot or spicy foods.
The reason for the loss of papillae remains uncertain, although studies have shown that the condition does run in families. Other possible causes include stress, allergies and hormone changes. And smoking and alcohol consumption may make any irritation worse.
If your symptoms persist for more than 10 days, see your dentist to rule out any potentially serious oral health condition. Geographic tongue usually resolves without treatment after a few months and the tongue returns to a normal appearance. If you are suffering from geographic tongue, you can reduce your discomfort by avoiding spicy foods, alcohol and tobacco.