Geographic Tongue

I’m told it’s common, affecting 2-3% of the population, which doesn’t sound common, but intriguing still: Geographic Tongue.

I picked my hygienist because she seems genuinely passionate about oral health. When I ask for more information she gets excited talking about it, like there’s whole new galaxies of possibilities and stories to be told, right here in my mouth.

They’ve made it so comfortable in the dentist’s office now it’s a kind of meditation as I sit here with my mouth out and my hands folded on my lap. The radio is a bit staticky but it kind of suits the sound of the instruments hissing and buzzing in and out, pretty soon you can just disappear.

I used to have the other hygienist Randy, who handled me with a kind of gruff Let’s Get Through This Together machismo, like neither you nor I really want to be here buddy but it’s going to be OK, we’ll get you out of here.

I didn’t pay attention to which hygienist I had or which worked on what days, until I got the girl who gets excited talking about dentistry, the pockets between your gums and tissue line, subtleties of flossing, myth-busting.

She said the Geographic Tongue is not unusual, just a pattern of spots that appear inexplicably and migrate around, then disappear and come back again at random.

So naturally I looked it up online and you guessed it: Wikipedia has a full spread on people with Geographic Tongue, representing all kinds of cases with mouths and tongues hanging out like tattooed, uncooked meat. It gets its name from the shapes of the spots that resemble islands or land masses, may look like a map if you use your imagination.

The thing is, once you start looking too closely at your tongue (or any part of your body), it’s easy to start thinking it doesn’t look right, you could have anything.

Now unemployed, I can make a routine cleaning to the dentist office the centerpiece of my day and feel like I’ve still done something at the end of it, especially after blogging about it.

I got there early enough to thumb through a magazine with stories about traveling in 2015: Where Will You Go?

I flipped to the writer’s bio, wondering how much she made for the article and if I could see myself doing that, most interested in how far out she ran with the language, how far she could go on her own vs. how far they’d let her.

And when I got the referral for the oral surgeon to confirm if it really was Geographic Tongue or something else, surely more ominous, I critiqued the copy on the referral flyer that does its best to quickly assure you, your mouth is in good hands with us, nothing to worry about.

So perhaps the hardest thing about being unemployed is also the pitfall of being unemployed: learning how to enjoy it. And what a pity, to leave my job because I wasn’t enjoying it only to not enjoy unemployment either, thereby proving I haven’t learned a thing.

Hell-bent on savoring it, I took the dog back to the foothills, still convinced we’re starting to understand each other more through non-verbal cues, that she’s sending me signals by the way she looks at me, the possibility either I’m starting to read her mind or vice versa.

The days take on a flowy quality, where I can take my time deciding what to wear and it still doesn’t matter. And yet I want the satisfaction of figuring it all out, this life junction, to know what’s next and still have the patience and confidence to dangle myself in the wind, waiting. That there is something now to treasure, which is always true if we just saw it that way.

I thought it funny I’ve got the map in my mouth, it might know where to go, but when I checked it just now, it’s gone. The spots move like herds with some vague sense of where they’re going, unaware they’re making patterns other people are putting names to.



Categories: humor

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. I would just turn my hoodie around, fill the hood with popcorn, and eat from my hoodie feed bag while watching movies all day. Espcecially after having just gotten my teeth cleaned. That would be pretty sweet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the continents are always shifting, have you checked your neck or chest for those missing maps?


  3. It is not Geographic Tongue. It is Canine Syndrome caused by Mind Meld with Dog. Other symptoms are galloping, woofing and slurping water.


  4. Your dentist intrigues me. I wonder if there are pore people like that out there…


    • Yes, it’s funny – it’s more about the hygienist and less about the dentist I think. You spend more time with them and in some ways (I don’t know), seems the work is more difficult for the hygienist, all that detailed cleaning. Thanks for reading! – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had to Google “geographic tongue” after reading this post, so I’m blaming you for all the images of people sticking their tongues out at me over my morning coffee.

    Another beautiful, thoughtful post. Loved the contrast between the professional approaches of the two hygienists.

    I’m with you on the difficulties of organizing the day when you have no clock to punch. FWIW, it gets easier.


    • Those photos are awful. I deliberately didn’t add a link to the “GT” because I figured if you went there, you were responsible for what happened. Sorry about that…but I find it a bit funny too, I’ll admit. Glad you liked the post Karen, thank you! And for the advice on how to organize the day. I suspect I have work coming through soon but I’ve been on hold waiting, so we’ll see. Trying to enjoy this free time as long as I can.

      Enjoy yours. – Bill


  6. Geographic tongue is as good a metaphor as any.
    Maybe I’m over-attributing because this is the primary venue by which I know you, but how much do you think writing it out and the feedback you got down here in the comments contributed to your leaving your job?


    • Hi Ross – thanks for pushing the envelope (a bad metaphor I think) with the comments here. Writing it out and the feedback I got certainly contributed to leaving my job. It started a while ago and I really did give it a lot of thought (more than a year, like two). I don’t know this is true of you, but I see a lot who use this venue therapeutically, to work things out. It’s good for that, working for me. I read the DFW Harper’s piece you sent me from 98 last night. It goes well with one of the chapters in IJ featuring a psych ward patient. In fact, it reads like the same person in some ways. I think Loren is feeling awkward about his Tolkien reference and I told him to get over it and join us. Perhaps we can start endnoting these posts. Meta within meta within meta, like that Pink Floyd record cover with the mirrors and them standing on the porch with the light just so, and their hair hanging out like “We’re Pink Floyd, so there.”


  7. As a dental student writing a travel blog- not sure I could have a more favourite condition!! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Geographic Tongue had me thinking | Khan's Lantern

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