What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes skin cells to grow too rapidly. As the skin cells accumulate, it leads to patches of red, scaly skin. These patches can appear anywhere on your body, including in your mouth.

It’s rare, but psoriasis can also occur on the tongue. Psoriasis on the tongue may be linked with an inflammatory condition affecting the sides and top of the tongue. This condition is called geographic tongue.

Geographic tongue is more likely to occur in people who have psoriasis. More research is needed to understand this connection.

Psoriasis can cause periodic flare-ups of symptoms, after which there’s little or no disease activity.

Since you can have psoriasis anywhere on your body, it’s also possible to have it in your mouth. This includes the:

  • cheeks
  • gums
  • lips
  • tongue

Lesions on the tongue can vary in color, from white to yellowish-white to gray. You might not notice lesions at all, but your tongue may be red and inflamed. This usually occurs during an acute psoriasis flare-up.

For some people, there are no other symptoms, which makes it easy to be overlooked. For others, pain and inflammation can make it hard to chew and swallow.

The cause of psoriasis isn’t known, but there’s a genetic link. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it if others in your family have it. It does mean you have a slightly higher risk of developing psoriasis than most people.

Psoriasis also involves a faulty immune system response. In some people, flare-ups seem to be caused by specific triggers, such as emotional stress, illness, or injury.

It’s a fairly common condition.

According to a study published in the American Academy of Dermatology, in 2013, 7.4 million people in the United States were living with psoriasis. It can develop at any age. It’s most likely to be diagnosed when you’re between the ages of 15 and 30.

Psoriasis can show up in any part of your body. Doctors aren’t sure why it flares up in the mouth or tongue in some people, but it’s a very uncommon location.

Psoriasis and geographical tongue aren’t contagious.

See your doctor or dentist if you have unexplained bumps on your tongue or have trouble eating or swallowing.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you’ve previously been diagnosed with psoriasis, especially if you’re currently having a flare-up. Your doctor will probably consider this information first.

Psoriasis on the tongue is rare and easy to confuse with other oral conditions. These include eczema, oral cancer, and leukoplakia, which is a mucous membrane disease.

You may need tests, like a biopsy of your tongue, to rule out other possibilities and to confirm you have psoriasis.

If you don’t have pain or trouble chewing or swallowing, treatment may not be necessary. Your doctor may suggest a wait-and-see approach.

You may be able to help keep your mouth healthy and relieve mild symptoms by practicing good oral hygiene.

Prescription-strength anti-inflammatories or topical anesthetics can be used to treat pain and swelling.

Psoriasis of the tongue can improve by treating your psoriasis in general. Systemic medications are those that work all throughout your body. They include:

These drugs are particularly useful when topical medications don’t help. Learn more about what injections you can use to treat psoriasis.

There’s no cure for psoriasis. However, treatment can help you effectively manage the disease and control its symptoms.

There’s no way to know if you’ll have more flare-ups that involve your tongue.

If you’ve been diagnosed with psoriasis, you’re at greater risk of some other conditions, including:

Psoriasis is a lifelong condition. It’s important to find a dermatologist to help you monitor and manage it.

Psoriasis can affect your self-esteem because it can be so visible. You may have feelings of depression or be tempted to socially isolate yourself. If psoriasis is interfering with your quality of life, tell your doctor.

You may also want to find in-person or online support groups specifically geared toward coping with psoriasis.