‘Geographic tongue’ creates unique topography | Science News


Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.

Say What?

‘Geographic tongue’ creates unique topography

Rare, harmless condition makes the organ’s flesh appear maplike

3:00pm, April 15, 2015
geographic tongue

TONGUE TWISTER  Cases of geographic tongue sometimes have spiral patterns (one shown). Other cases feature an archipelago of spots across the tongue.

Geographic tongue
\JHEE-uh-gra-fik TUHNG\ n.

A condition in which red splotches give the tongue a maplike appearance.

Some people see Jesus on toast, others see maps on tongues. While the former can be chalked up to an illusion, the latter points to a real medical condition.

Tiny bumps called papillae cover the tongue. Losing some of these bumps creates geographic tongue, or benign migratory glossitis, with islands of red, inflamed splotches. The condition affects 2 percent of people. Aside from a little discomfort, it’s harmless.

The cause of the condition remains mysterious, but researchers have some idea how it spreads across the tongue. Scientists report online March 31 in New Journal of Physics a computational study suggesting that geographic tongue can develop in two ways: circular and spiral.

In some cases, small spots get bigger until they cover the whole tongue.

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now.
Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content