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Oral myology is edging beyond the world of speech therapy to the dental industry, writes Rachel Smith.
Imagine if fixing a poor tongue posture and tongue position could improve everything from your sleep, to the amount of tooth decay you develop, to the aesthetics of your face. It’s possible, says the inventor of Myospots, a patented tongue exercise product to help patients ‘train’ their tongue to sit in the right position.
These small, dissolvable ‘spots’ that stick to the palate and encourage tongue elevation are the brainchild of two experts in the field: Dr Ibrahim El-Deeb and Dr Shehab Faragallah. As a holistic dentist in his own Gold Coast practice, Dr Faragallah is passionate about oral myology and helping kids and adults alike enjoy the health benefits of better oral habits.
“Oral myology used to come under the scope of speech therapy but dental hygenists, dentists and even chiropractors and physios are starting to practise it,” he explains. “It basically involves looking at your oral habits: your swallow, your tongue position, your tongue posture and the way you chew.”
So what does a correct tongue posture look like? According to Dr Faragallah, your lips should be just touching, with no gap in between, and your tongue should be sitting two milimetres behind your front teeth. “Your tongue should also be raised up to the roof of your mouth,” he adds.
What can poor oral habits lead to?
An incorrect tongue posture can have many health ramifications including that your tongue drops due to mouth breathing. Experts say breathing through your mouth can affect you in ways you might not even realise, causing dry mouth and teeth—and the bad breath that goes with both. Mouth breathing is also a risk factor for asthma, and has been linked to sleep problems, learning disorders and even jaw issues in kids.
“You’re also much more likely to get tooth decay and periodontal disease if you’re a mouth breather,” adds Dr Faragallah.
On the flip side, nasal breathing has huge benefits. One of these is helping you fight viral infections, due to the production of nitric oxide (NO), which increases blood flow through the lungs and oxygenates the blood. In fact, inhaled NO is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
“We’re designed to breathe through our nose—and there’s a lot of research to show the health improvements from nasal breathing,” says Dr Faragallah. “If there’s one thing that people could do to improve their health immediately, it would be to start breathing through the nose. A health benefit of tongue elevation is it induces nasal breathing.”
Innovating for better mouth health
Tongue training involves applying a Myospot to the palate to give your tongue a reminder to elevate. It will dissolve between 40-60 minutes, but using a spot once or twice a day is designed to help you develop that neuromuscular memory, while also making nasal breathing a habit, says Dr Faragallah.
However, he’s quick to point out it’s not an entirely new idea.
“Oral myology has been around for over 50 years—but it’s not really mainstream in Australia; it was only briefly touched on when I was at university,” he remembers. “However, I was doing a course several years ago and they taught us to use a hole punch to make ‘spots’ using thin, gelatinous sheets known as Stomahesive. It’s a technique used by a select group of dental professionals and speech therapists who understand about oral myology.”
Dr Faragallah wasn’t keen on using Stomahesives. For one thing, the product wasn’t intended for intra-oral use and they smell and taste unpleasant. “I thought, what else can we do? So I teamed up with Dr El-Deeb, who holds a PhD in drug discovery, and we developed Myospots, a product intended for exercising the tongue muscles.”
Benefits of tongue training
Research has shown that oral myology in the form of tongue elevation training and nasal breathing can improve how well you sleep—that’s the most common feedback Dr Faragallah receives. But there’s more.
“I treat a lot of children and you can see their faces change. The darkness under the eyes goes, their profile changes, the actual structure of the cheekbones improves,” he says. “Tongue elevation and nasal breathing can literally change how you look.”
Studies also show that tongue elevation increases your muscle strength. “A lot of elite athletes are nasal breathers. Just look at Roger Federer or Cristiano Ronaldo; they are perfect breathers. They rarely breathe through their mouth,” says Dr Faragallah.
How the product can help dentists
Not surprisingly, it can take time to train a patient out of bad oral habits—and doing so can quickly become costly for a practice, says Dr Faragallah, who says the whole idea behind Myospots is to simplify tongue exercises into a DIY method patients can easily learn to do themselves.
“It’s one of several simple interventions that dentists and healthcare professionals are starting to incorporate into treatments they’re giving to patients—and with Myospots, it’s one thing you can do for tongue elevation; it’s easy, there’s a protocol to follow and if you follow it you should get results,” he says.
“It’s our hope that the product will become an intervention for dentists and other health practitioners across the board, perhaps teamed with a questionnaire on mouth breathing that’s easy for patients to fill in. That’s one of several things we’re working on for the future.”