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Celiac Disease and Geographic Tongue

What is Geographic Tongue?

A child sticking their tongue out. The tongue is mostly pink, but there are smooth, red patches, too.Geographic tongue, also known as migratory glossitis, is a harmless inflammatory condition characterized by “bald patches” on the tongue. It doesn’t have many symptoms and isn’t associated with infections, nor is it contagious.

Normally a tongue is covered in bumps called “papillae.” In people with geographic tongue, parts of the tongue lack papillae, making sections appear abnormally smooth or a darker pink-red. The “borders” of these smooth areas may be yellow-white and elevated. These patches come and go, and the size and shape of them can vary from day to day.

As mentioned, there are few symptoms associated with this condition. Those with a geographic tongue may experience a mild stinging or burning sensation when they eat food, and they tend to be more sensitive to spicy and acidic foods.

Geographic tongue can affect anyone of any age or race. It often runs in families, which suggests that there’s a genetic component to this condition.

What is the Connection to Celiac Disease?

There is little research into this condition, but one study did find that 15% of those with geographic tongue tested positive for celiac disease. This is higher than the ~1% of the general population that develops celiac disease, suggesting a connection between the two conditions.

Geographic tongue is also associated with psoriasis (1, 2), which, like celiac disease, is an autoimmune condition.

How is Geographic Tongue Treated?

There are few treatments for geographic tongue as it is a benign condition that rarely interferes with daily life. Some individuals may choose to eliminate spicy, acidic or particularly salty foods from their diet, as these flavors can be painful for someone with a geographic tongue.

In the rare cases where geographic tongue causes persistent pain, doctors may prescribe an anti-inflammatory or numbing medication.

Make sure your dentist is aware of your issues, too. They can also assist in diagnosing GT, and can distinguish this condition from similar ones, such as lichen planus and candidiasis. 

Where Can I Learn More?

Think you may have celiac disease?

Symptoms Checklist