Geographic Tongues

posted by elisha.bahr, 3 years ago

When my son was little, he used to complain about his food often telling us that things were spicy. I chalked this up to him not liking certain foods and using the word “spicy” as a catch-all for things he just didn’t want to eat. It frustrated me that he didn’t want to eat “spicy” foods which seemed to also include anything that was sour or had a strong flavor. As parents, we thought it was a phase that he would grow out of. As a new parent, I thought all kids were like this and just needed time getting introduced to new foods and flavors. When his younger brother started complaining about spicy foods too, we succumbed to the fact that we may just have picky eaters.

Then we went to our yearly dentist appointment and that all changed. “Do your kids always have marks on their tongues like that?” she asked me. “Yes,” I told her, “they come and go.” Why I didn’t think more into this, I don’t know. I know at the time I assumed they had either just burnt their tongues on hot food (not like we were giving them burning food!) or bit them while they were sleeping or playing. It certainly didn’t look serious to me, and it didn’t bother my boys, so I guess I never thought twice about it. “It’s just interesting that they both have geographic tongues,” my dentist said.

The dentist didn’t seem concerned about this “condition” and neither was I. I just blindly assumed like the dentist had told me, that it’s just random “spots” that move around on their tongue. They can come and go and they don’t cause them any pain, so nothing really to worry about. Fast-forward to a couple months later when my kids are at the doctor’s office. “Wow, both your kids have geographic tongues. I have a geographic tongue too,” my doctor informed me. This piqued my interest. I informed our doctor of the dentist visit and how she told us it was nothing to worry about. “Well for me,” my doctor said, “when I eat something spicy, it feels like my tongue is literally burning.” (Queue mother guilt.) For months, I had been telling my children to stop complaining about the food we made and how it wasn’t “that spicy”, only to learn that it probably was “that spicy” for them and actually hurt their tongues!

According to the Mayo Clinic, geographic tongues are smooth, red, irregularly shaped patches (lesions) on the top or side of your tongue. The shapes, sizes and locations of these patches change and many people with geographic tongues produce no symptoms. Some cases have been known to disappear after some time and the cause for why it occurs is unknown. 1 in 10 people with geographic tongues experience the following symptoms:

• Sensitivity to hot or spicy foods.
• Sensitivity to cigarette smoke.
• Sensitivity to toothpaste. (We searched for quite a while until we found a toothpaste my son felt was “okay” tasting. I had no idea this could be attributed to his tongue.)

So why am I telling you about this when only 1-3% of the population have it and even less than that are even bothered by it? The chances that my kids had a sensitivity to foods were low. I remember years ago a nutritionist coming to visit my mommy-and-me class with my son. She had explained that her child was a super taster where even bland tastes were strong for him. Our class inquired more about this (I even thought my oldest son must be this way because of how foods affected him) but she assured us it was highly unlikely our kids were supertasters as well.

I get where the nutritionist is coming from. It is unlikely that a picky eater is a super taster or has a geographic tongue, but my point here is that it is possible. Check your child’s tongue if you think spicy foods bother them too much! In hindsight I wish I had taken the time to have more of a conversation with my son about how things taste. When he said the food was spicy he really meant, that’s burning my tongue! So learn from my mistakes and start the dialogue with your children now. When they tell you they don’t like a food, ask them if they can explain to you what they don’t like. And by all means, don’t give up on them! They can still learn to eat a variety of foods!

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