Theoretically speaking, Geographic Tongue (GT) is a medical condition in which the upper layer of the tongue, which consists of tiny hair-like protrusions, is damaged due to an expanding inflammation. As a result, red patches devoid of papillae can be observed on the surface of the tongue. The condition’s name is derived from a noticeable characteristic of the condition is an evolving map-like appearance of the affected tongue.
GT is in fact harmless and it only affects about 2% of the population. GT was first reported more than 180 years ago. It has been investigated ever since, but the actual cause of the condition remains unknown. GT has been associated with different diseases like psoriasis.
On the other hand, GT is a chronic condition that will reoccur at a later time. According to Gabriel Seiden, Physicist at Weizmann Institute of Science, by identifying GT as a novel example of excitable media dynamics, they were able to examine and visualize the evolution of the condition using numerical simulations.
Taking a dynamical systems approach to GT enabled us to classify the severity of the condition, based on the patterns observed on the tongue of a GT patient. Typically GT-affected tongues fall into two main categories. The first corresponds to oblate patterns that expands and merges with other growing oblate regions. In this case, like with forest fires, the tongue is gradually affected but then subsequently heals. Another more “exotic” form of the condition involves patterns consisting of open-ended tips, most notably spirals, which can evolve into the recovering regions of the tongue.
As the spiral pattern evolves, its arm rotates and continuously affects recovering regions. This self-sustaining characteristic might hinder the tongue from healing and so cause a more acute condition, which will linger for longer periods of time before the tongue is completely healed.
GT is a mysterious condition but we hope that this novel approach will help physicians to assess patients with GT condition and trigger further clinical investigations, particularly into how and why GT patterns form and move around. We might then learn more about the underlying mechanism responsible for this disease.