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Q: My two-year-old grandson has been diagnosed with "geographic tongue." I have searched everywhere and can't find any information on this subject. This started when he was just a few months old, and it keeps recurring. Any information on the disease and its treatment would be appreciated.
A: Geographic tongue is a benign condition in the mouth that we see in some children from time to time. When a child has this condition, he loses the bumps on the tongue that give it the normal rough appearance. Because of the loss of bumps in certain areas of the tongue, there is a nonspecific inflammation that causes bright red patches. This makes these areas of the tongue smooth and slick. These smooth patches are often surrounded by yellow, gray, or white lines and sometimes looks like a map-like pattern -- thus the name, geographic tongue.
Geographic tongue appears most frequently in children and young adults. It is most common among children under age four. There is no known cause for the condition and few, if any, symptoms, aside from occasional irritation or a mild burning sensation. The bumps do grow back with time. Although these spots can last for weeks or months before disappearing, they can also recur spontaneously for no apparent reason.
The fact that your grandson was diagnosed with geographic tongue is no cause for alarm. Since it is harmless and causes very little discomfort, therapy is usually unnecessary. It should eventually resolve on its own. Try to be patient.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.