A Slip Of The Tongue


Most of us take our tongues for granted. We use them to speak, sing, drink, eat and to offer the occasional insult. But for those who suffer from Geographic Tongue or GT, the tongue is not always something they can count on.

GT is a condition that causes people to have a mottled tongue featuring bizarre designs such as circles and ‘continents’. It does this by changing the tongue’s upper layer of tissue, called the epithelium, which contains the tastebuds. The condition is not contagious, but it can be chronic and it is believed to affect up to 2% of the world’s population.

According to a study co-authored by Gabriel Seiden, a physicist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, GT occurs when some of the structures containing these buds become inflamed,

The cause is unknown but scientists believe genetics may play a part. Stress, allergies, diabetes and a hormonal imbalance have also been proposed, but scientists have so far been unable to conclusively prove any of these can trigger the condition.

While the tongue does heal eventually, the patterns always return and can cause some mild pain.


In the study, Seiden and his researchers used equations that treated GT as an “excitable medium,” or a condition that can pass through an environment but is unable to remain indefinitely.

A forest fire is a classic example of an ‘excitable medium’. When a fire starts it can spread through a forest as long as there is wood and other materials to fuel its spread. Once a fire has passed through and consumed the fuel, it cannot return to a burnt spot until the vegetation has regrown.

“When this flame grows,” says Professor Seiden, “it essentially destroys this layer, and continues until the whole forest is burned down.” In the same manner, GT can spread through the epithelium of the tongue until the entire tongue is affected. Then, the GT fades away until the cells rebuild themselves.

In one version of the condition, GT starts out as a series of small spots that expand gradually in a circular pattern. The patterns cannot form in areas that have already been affected, causing the bizarre shapes.

In a more serious version of GT, spiral patterns develop which can move into parts of the tongue that are still healing.


“We hope these results can be used by physicians as practical way of assessing the severity of the condition based on the characteristic patterns observed,” said Professor Seiden.

Just as the development of forest fires can be affected by external conditions, such as the strength of the wind, the researchers say the conditions surrounding the tongue may also have important consequences for GT.

In their study, they observed a one-year-old boy who developed the characteristic lesions on multiple occasions along the tongue’s edge adjacent to growing teeth.

They say this implies the constant rubbing of the tongue against the gum may trigger GT.

“People with GT may have mild pain or irritation, but the condition is not otherwise harmful, Seiden said. There are some prescription medications available, but they mainly treat the condition’s symptoms. Going forward, we intend to collaborate with physicians and dentists who treat GT patients to obtain valuable – and often scarce – empirical data regarding the dynamic evolution of the condition.” .

At this time there is no cure for GT, but hopefully progress will be made. In the meanwhile, it never hurts to have a clean mouth, and a clean tongue.

Dr. Sigal JacobsonUveneer is the invention of cosmetic dentist, Dr. Sigal Jacobson. Though only being launched since February of 2014, Dr. Jacobson’s patented
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